There’s a question that we all ask ourselves, that we have asked ourselves from our earliest memories, and that we will ask ourselves until our last day. It’s the reason why we ask children what they want to be when they grow up, the reason why as adults we have those moments called a mid-life crisis, and the reason why in old age we spend so much time thinking about the past. The question that we ask is, “who am I?”
People come up with all kinds of clever ways to answer the question. When strangers ask “who are you” or “so tell me about yourself”, we often tell them our job or the organizations that we are a part of or some other public version of ourselves. If someone we know and trust was asked to describe us, they would probably answer with our relationships and say that we are a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a friend. And to ourselves in our own hearts, we define ourselves with our entire past, public and private, and every hope that we have for what the future will bring. All of these answers are true, but none of them are complete. There is an answer that is more real than these things.
In the Gospel today, we hear an answer that is real. Jesus asks his disciples, “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and as it turns out people are saying that he is John the Baptist or Elijah or some other prophet. The people are saying the Jesus is a prophet in a long line of other prophets. Then he confronts the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” and Simon says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In other words, Simon says Jesus is more than a prophet who speaks about God, Jesus is someone anointed by God to reveal God Himself.
Simon recognizes the Christ. Simon says that in Jesus he knows God, and so he names him the Christ. Names were more than just names for the people of the ancient world. Your name was your identity, it was the essence of who you were. To know someone’s name was to know them, to have relationship with them, and to define them. That’s why Adam got to name all the animals as the steward of creation, and why in the Old Testament God renamed people with new importance in salvation history, like when he renamed Abram to be Abraham. And that’s why the name of God was so important and so revered by the people of Israel, because God was saying that He let’s us know Him.
In this moment, when Simon names who Christ is and acknowledges him… it is in that moment that Simon discovers who he is himself. Jesus reveals to him his true name, “Peter” and gives him his identity. Could Peter have any more true and real answer to who he is, than these words from Christ, from his own Creator naming him Peter, the foundation of the Church, and the holder of the keys? And could Peter have ever answered that question himself?… Could a fisherman and a man who very soon would deny Christ three times, at any point in his life could he have answered who he is on his own, without Jesus there to name him “Peter”?
The answer is “no.” “Who am I?” is a question that we will never be able to answer on our own. It is only in Christ, it is only in the Creator that we can understand ourselves. Because God has a way of seeing us like we can’t. God sees beyond just our sinfulness and our virtue, past our failing and accomplishment… and instead sees His creation. I think that when God looks at us, He sees what He has always intended us to be, His holy saints fully present to Him… and He beckons us to become what we really are.
The next time you wonder who you are… the next time you think about your personality and your career and your family and your future… pray to Christ with the words of the Gospel. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And then ask him, “Lord, who do you say that I am?”
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.