The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 16:13-19
Everyone is selling something, every religion wants to add new devotees to their ranks. But religions and ideologies are not just interested in people as numbers, they want their hearts and minds. They want you to see the world through their eyes. Turn on the tv, flip on the radio, read the newspaper and you will not just be entertained, you will be asked to subscribe to a way of thinking. This is the case with politics and the way the right attacks the left and vice-versa. Buddhism will have you follow the teachings of Buddha, Muslims follow the teachings and worldview of Muhammed, and atheists want you to follow their own philosophies on life and meaning. No matter where you turn you are faced with choices. Yes there is a battle for your heart and mind.
Religions and philosophies are propositions. They propose that their way of doing something is better than another, and that it will yield a desired result. Islam has certain propositions. Atheists believe that men can govern themselves without the help of God. The benefits of such thinking for an atheist might be that they don’t feel accountable for their actions. They don’t answer to anyone, they don’t feel guilt. Without religion there are often no boundaries to what our heart desires…..to an atheist, that is a perk! The proposition of Christianity is somewhat different. Because it is not a way of thinking, it is ultimately not a set of beliefs. It is not the proposition of an idea, but of a person…….JESUS CHRIST.
Let’s put this person of Jesus of Nazareth into perspective. He was a Jewish man born in Israel possibly around 7 b.c. He was trained not in theology but in carpentry. He began his earthly ministry around 30 a.d., and by most accounts was crucified around 33 a.d. We are left with a man who had no formal education, left us no writings and was sentenced to death by the great Roman Empire. But the story does not end there.
More writing has been dedicated to the subject of Jesus than to any other person or subject in history. More works of art from paintings to hymns to symphonies have been dedicated to the character of Jesus. And the best selling book of all time The Bible, centers around the Life and works of this Jesus of Nazareth. All of this commotion for a man who had only a three year ministry in a day and age with no printing press, no tv or radio, no e-mail or blogging. In short, the fame of Jesus Christ in itself is a miracle. But the miracle goes further. The greatest empire in the history of the world, the Roman empire, that had crucified Jesus as a common criminal was to become less than three hundred years later, the center of the Christian Empire, which saw as it’s head….this same condemned man…..Jesus of Nazareth.
Now this is very important…..many people, most of whom have never read the gospels will insist that Jesus was a good man or even a great moral teacher. We can even look at religions such as Islam where Christ is revered as a Holy Prophet. This point however is not to be overlooked……..Jesus Christ makes certain claims about himself. He must therefore be judged according to those claims. As C.S. Lewis writes in his example of the Lunatic Liar or Lord
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil (of Hell). You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
This is why the question that Jesus asks in the gospel today is so important. “But who do you say that I am?” This question is asked of each and every one of us and this question was asked to the disciples. The Lord Jesus wants us to answer this question. He doesn’t want us to think about it for a moment and then go on to the next distraction. He wants us to really truly struggle to know who He is. The great Apostles Peter and Paul show us what true faith looks like when we really believe that Jesus is the Son of the living God. They weren’t simply talking about Jesus, they lived their belief in Him. They changed the world by their faith in the Lord. The faith of the people sitting here in the pews can also change the world.
“Who do you say that I am?” This is the question that matters more than any other. This is the question that helps to answer all the other questions of life. This is the truth that allows us to know God, love Him and serve others in His name.