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Sunday Scripture: Who do you say that I am?

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

By Sister Betty J. Lillie, S.C.

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1; Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9; Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24

Among this week’s readings our Gospel passage gives us a focus to important questions that surfaced in the minds of Jesus’ followers. When a person appears on the scene with special powers and a baffling message, His listeners are prompted to ask questions about His true identity.

There are two pivotal questions in our passage. First, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Second, “But who do you say that I am?” The first of the two was not likely asked as a search for information. What the crowds were saying may have included a wide spectrum of speculation.
Just for a start, some may have answered that He was John the Baptist who had previously been put to death by Herod. If He were really present it would have meant that He was raised from the dead (Luke 9:7-8). That would have been a frightful thought for Herod. Then, too, the name of Elijah was advanced. In popular parlance he was expected to return before the Messiah would appear.  All of that was common “talk” and was familiar to everyone.
That leads up to the second, and more important question, “Who do you say that I am?” If the disciples were going to be Jesus’ followers, there were significant reasons for their need to come to faith in Jesus’ true identity. They had to acquire a whole new way of thinking about the characteristics of the kind of Messiah Jesus was, including the fact that Jesus’ description of His mission included rejection and death as well as taking up the cross and following where He would go.

None of that fit the prevailing concept of the Messiah as a king whose rule would produce peace, abundance, power and victory over the enemies of the nation. That kind of king was expected to restore the sovereignty of Israel by driving out invaders and regaining control of the land.
To top off the new way of thinking about the Messiah, there was a prediction of a resurrection on the third day after His death. Who had ever heard of a thing?
It is true that shortly after this conversation the disciples would experience Jesus’ transfiguration, and that would show them His exaltation. But at the time of the discussion, the disciples did not yet know about that. These events contribute to the expectation of their forming a whole new way of thinking about the mission of Jesus.
All of that calls us to consider Paul’s whole new concept of incorporation into Christ by baptism. Being heirs of the kingdom according to the promise makes other artificial categories irrelevant. All are one in Christ (Galatians 3: 26-29).

In time the community would look back to the prophet Zechariah and see Jesus as having fulfilled the prophecy about the death of the righteous sufferer who would atone for all sin. However, the main point for the message of this Sunday is the relation between the suffering of Jesus and our redemption through repentance and purification.
This is reflected in the psalmist’s prayer to which we unite our hearts and our voices: “Thy steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise thee” (Psalm 63).

Sister Betty Jane is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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