Once when Jesus was praying in solitude,
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah;
still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.'”
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”
He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.
He said, “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.”
Jesus’s two questions to his disciples—“Who do the crowds say that I am? …But who do you say that I am?”—highlight the fact that He wants us to come to know Him personally, not merely through what we hear from others. He knows that a flurry of rumors and opinions surround Him, but He doesn’t want His disciples to be distracted by them. Rather, He wants them to form their knowledge from their own direct encounters with Him.
Peter’s response—“The Christ of God”—cuts straight to the heart of the matter. Is Jesus a prophet or the Messiah? A conduit of God’s message, or the Source? Peter answers firmly that Jesus is not merely a human leader but is the Divine Redeemer.
However, declaring Jesus to be the Messiah has some troubling implications. If He is the Redeemer, then He is also the Lamb, destined to be sacrificed for our salvation. The disciples do not realize this; they do not yet know the necessity of the Cross, but Jesus immediately and directly speaks to them of the great suffering He must endure.
The truth of Jesus’s divinity was much harder to process than the other narratives floating among the crowds. To be a follower of a prophet required much less than to be the follower of the Lamb. Jesus was asking His disciples to follow Him in the way of sacrifice, to take up their own crosses. It would have been much easier for them to accept an alternate explanation for Jesus’s teachings and rationalize that He didn’t really mean that He would suffer. But it wouldn’t have been the truth.
We are living in turbulent times, where the truth is twisted in a thousand different directions every day. As we try to come to know Jesus, it can be very easy to become distracted by the noise that surrounds us, the many alternative explanations and lies that try to steal our attention and confuse us. But Jesus Himself is the Truth—and the Way, and the Life—and if we focus ourselves on Him, we will find the truth illuminated for us everywhere.
We are called to earnestly seek truth in every situation, not to accept incomplete accounts or one-sided descriptions that may be easier to digest but ultimately keep us in the darkness. The truth is difficult and often uncomfortable, but only the truth will set us free.
Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Michael and the Archangels, who were the forerunners for us in this decision between truth and comfort. For the angels, the revelation that they would be called to serve fallen humanity and bow before Mary as their Queen was difficult to receive. In response, Satan rebelled against God and refused to serve. Michael could have made that choice, too, but he didn’t. Instead he responded, “Mîkhā’ēl,” or “Who is like God?” He knew that even though the path ahead would involve suffering, he could trust God to lead him through it. And honestly, who was Satan kidding? Did he really think he could defeat God? He can whine and scheme and throw tantrums; he can wreak havoc throughout the world; but in the end, he cannot win. He is not like God. Unlike Michael, he refused to acknowledge this truth.
Michael’s words, “Who is like God?”, are very similar to Peter’s: “Lord, to whom else would we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.” They are kindred spirits in their clear-eyed understanding of their own dependence upon God. They know that God’s teachings are difficult, but that doesn’t change the fact that He is trustworthy. They look to God Himself and find Truth within the Mystery.
In response to the current abuse crisis in the Church, many parishes (including St. Patrick’s Cathedral!) have brought back the tradition of saying the St. Michael Prayer together at the end of each Mass. As we look toward his feast tomorrow, let us keep this prayer on our lips as a guard against the lies of Satan and a declaration of trust in God. May truth prevail, in our own hearts and in the whole world.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.