Who am I? Who do people say that I am? Who do YOU say that I am? What do you believe in your life of faith? This gets to the heart of the questions that Jesus asks his followers today.
When we see Jesus in today’s Gospel, he’s in the midst of his ministry here on earth. He and his disciples are going all over the countryside proclaiming the kingdom of God. In our Gospel readings in recent weeks, we’ve seen Jesus speak to great crowds, performing the miracle of multiplying the loaves and the fish. People have come to him for healing and change in their lives. At this point, Jesus is wondering what the people have learned, how they perceive him. So he asks the disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
Put that question in the context of our own day. When we meet someone for the first time, we wonder: “Who are you?” And if you ask someone to tell you about himself, what that person says and does not say can be very revealing. We can answer a question based on profession: I’m a teacher, a farmer, a lawyer, a prison guard. We can answer based upon religion: I’m Catholic or I’m Jewish. We can focus on relationships: I’m a father or a brother, a wife or a daughter. We can focus on our geographic identity or ethic group: I’m from Benton, or I’m Irish-American. There are so many way we can identify ourselves – the list is endless.
Well, Jesus got a lot of answers about how the crowds identify him. Some say he’s John the Baptist, while others see him as Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, his followers spent centuries debating Jesus’ identity and what they really believed about him. These followers struggled to understand how Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, a concept that is indeed difficult to comprehend. They struggled to understand how God manifests himself in our world as a God of three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The beliefs of the early Church that developed after Jesus’ death and resurrection are reflected in the Apostles’ Creed. Later, out the Council of Nicea that was called by the Emperor Constantine in 325, the early Church started writing the Nicene Creed, which we still profess today. Professing this creed as what we believe as Catholics reflects our roots in the early Church, the faith passed down by the apostles and the early Church fathers and mothers.
When Jesus asks the disciples bluntly and directly about what they believe about him, Simon Peter takes the lead, proclaiming with great enthusiasm: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. We are called to profess that same belief in our lives of faith here in the modern world, that Jesus is indeed the Savior of all the world who redeems us through his death and resurrection.
You know, in a few months, we’re to receive the new English translation of the Roman missal at our masses. Just this month, one of my good friends at St Richard asked me: “Father Lincoln, about that new translation of the mass in English, are the differences really going to be that big, are we even going to notice them?” Oh, the differences will be many indeed, both big and small. In fact, the translation we use now is more of a paraphrase of the original Latin, whereas the new one is a more literal translation of each word, keeping the original Latin word structure and images. The Church is hoping that this new translation will be a way to strengthen the spiritual connection we have in our mass, to really feel it as the “source and summit” of what we believe as Catholics. In our current translation, we start the Nicene Creed, “We believe,” but in the new translation it will be “I believe.” The Creed is indeed the faith of the entire Catholic Church, but in proclaiming “I believe,” each believer is able to assert and profess his own personal faith together with other believers. The words “I believe” reflect a more literal translation of the Latin word Credo that begins the Nicene Creed. Currently in the Creed, we state our belief in Jesus as “one in being with the Father.” In the new translation, we will say that Jesus is “consubstantial” with the Father, not a word that we use in everyday conversation in the Mississippi Delta. The question of how Jesus relates to the Father is fundamental to our faith, as Peter declared Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of the Father. There was much debate about Jesus’ identity and his relationship to the Father in his day and in the early Church, so the early Church councils developed new words and a new vocabulary in order to express precisely what we believe about Jesus. “Consubstantialis” in Latin, or “consubstantial” in English means “having the same substance,” which goes beyond how we currently describe Jesus as “one in being with the Father.”
It is important to think about how we identify and name Jesus not only as individuals, but also as a community of faith. Indeed, how does our belief in Jesus and our identity with him affect the way we live out our lives and live out our faith? As we continue to celebrate the year of the Eucharist in our diocese, as we look forward to the new translation of the mass which we will receive on November 27th on the first Sunday of Advent, may the ways we identify Christ in our lives help change us and transform us.