Who do we say Jesus is?

By Father Tom Kelly

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time/June 19

Zechariah 12:10-11;13:1; Psalm 63:2,3-4,5-6,8-9; Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24

The Gospel writer Luke frequently pictures Jesus as praying, particularly at important times when decisions have to be made. In this Sunday’s Gospel passage, Jesus appears to be praying about his future ministry. He first asks his disciples a question: Who do the people in the crowd think he is? Then Jesus addresses the same question to the disciples themselves: “Who do you say I am?”

It is Peter who responds for the group. Peter plays a unique role in Luke’s Gospel. His response is, “You are the Christ of God.” But what does this title mean to Peter?

It means that Jesus is a person in whom God’s power is at work. In this context, the title suggests that Jesus will save the people from Roman domination. Peter sees Jesus as a political figure. Peter misunderstands Jesus’ role, so Jesus warns the disciples “not to tell this to anyone.”

Since Peter misunderstands the role of Jesus, he cannot comprehend the next words Jesus says, namely that “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” These words of Jesus are a total mystery to his disciples. How could Jesus be the messiah and at the same time be killed?

Jesus then warns the disciples that they will also suffer: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Jesus informs his disciples that the day will come when he will suffer and die. But he insists that death will not have the last word. The last word will not be death but life. At death, life is changed not ended. Life goes on, but in another mode.


This truth is reflected in the following story, titled “The Snake Bite”:

“There is an old Indian story about a 12-year-old boy who died of a snake bite. The poison took away his life, and his grieving parents carried his body to the holy man and laid it before him and the three of them sat around the body sadly for a long, long time.

“The father finally rose from his grieving, went over to his child, stretched out his hands over the feet of the child and said, ‘In all of my life I have not worked for my family as I should have.’ And the poison left the feet of the child.

“Then the mother rose and stretched her hands over the heart of the child, and she said, ‘In all my life I have not loved my family as I should.’ And the poison left the heart of the child.

“And the holy man stretched out his hands over the heart of the dead boy, and he said, ‘In all my life I have not believed the words I have spoken.’ And the poison left the head of the child.

“The child rose up, and the parents and the holy man rose up, and the village rejoiced that day.”

The story suggests that the web of personal relationship lies at the heart of the human situation. When we recognize and admit our shortcomings and ask forgiveness from one another, alienation and death retreat and new life blooms forth. And so it goes.


FATHER TOM KELLY, a former pastor in Ottawa and Bartonville and chaplain at the Newman Foundations at the University of Illinois in Champaign and Bradley University in Peoria, is a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria. He resides in Peoria.

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