An American, a Scot, and a Canadian were killed in a car accident. They arrived at the gates of Heaven, where a flustered St. Peter explained that there had been a mistake. “Give me $500 each,” he said, “and I’ll return you to earth as if the whole thing never happened.”
“Done!” Said the American with his American Express card handed to St. Peter. Instantly he found himself unhurt near the scene.
“Where are the others?” asked the medic.
“Last I knew,” said the American, “The Scot was haggling price, and the Canadian was arguing that his government should pay.”
Most of us can identify with one of these three attitudes. If we can afford to pay to get out of pain, like the American, we would do it instantly. Some might not be willing to pay the price like the Scot, they bargain. Others might just expect someone else to pay the price.
Jesus offers different approach. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” This demand doesn’t sound appealing at all. The cost is high and the gain is unseen.
This is the reason for many people to lose faith in God or do not want to believe in Jesus. They don’t want to pay the price to be followers of Christ. Recently the parents of a young woman sadly told me that their daughter had refused to be confirmed as a Catholic because she could not be part of a Church that condemns same-sex marriage. She left the Catholic Church because she could not agree with the Church’s position opposing a woman’s right to abortion. She said, “It is the woman’s right to choose, and the Church should not mess with it.” This is a serious problem facing many Christians today. For example, many Catholics are supporting the Obama’s healthcare reform even its mandates are contrary to our religious beliefs. The Church believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, but others including many Catholics are loudly saying that people of same-sex are freely to marry anyone they love. The Church believes and teaches that life is sacred from conception to death; but many Catholics are saying that women have the right to choose abortions if they want. It is sad to see some people publicly identify themselves as Catholics and as followers of Christ and unequivocally advocate the right to abortions. They want to claim to be Christians but they don’t want to embrace the teachings and the demands from Jesus Christ, the Founder of Christianity.
It is not easy to be a Christian. Jesus knows it is not easy. Peter and the other disciples also did not think it was easy either. Peter actually tried to talk Jesus out of it. But Jesus rebuked Peter that he was being be led by Satan. “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human do.” Jesus says that Peter’s way of thinking was human’s way of thinking. And human’s way of thinking, according to Jesus’ rebuke, is influenced or led by Satan. Clearly Jesus expects Peter and his followers to think as God does. Jesus wants his followers to transform their way of thinking into God’s way of thinking. In order to transform our way of thinking into God’s way of thinking, we need to reflect and respond to Jesus question today, “Who do you say that I am?”
Jesus needs to have followers in the world, but He does not just want followers. He wants to have effective followers. To become effective followers, we need to know exactly who Jesus is and what is expected of us to be part of his mission. Jesus knows it is important for his followers to clearly define who He is, and what is expected of them. He is not simply a miracle-worker, and a magic man. He is the Christ. Peter answers correctly. Jesus is the Christ. This is a declaration of his faith in Jesus.
Professing faith in Jesus is an easy part. We can declare that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior, the Messiah, and the Son of God etc. We can admire Jesus and believe in his resurrection. The more difficult part is to walk the walk of Jesus. There are consequences to being Jesus’ followers. Jesus wants his followers not just to declare him as the Christ, but He also wants them to be like him, to act like him and live a life like his. Living, acting and doing like Jesus will put his followers in conflict with the values of the world. And many are not ready to commit to Him. They choose to walk away.
Sometime today you might want to take some times and a piece of paper and write on it who you say Jesus is to you. You should have some answer. You should have some images of Jesus. Some of the images you learned as children in Sunday school. Some of the images you of the images might have proved troubling and you don’t have anything to replace them with. Sometimes we dismiss Jesus on the basis of what we knew about Jesus as a child. Some of us have never examined the evidence for ourselves. The image of Jesus is vague or generic. It is important for each of us to define who Jesus is to us personally. You might tell your spouse or your children, or your parents who is Jesus to you. He might be the Christ, the Savior, a friend, or a difficult, demanding and incomprehensible Lord. There are people clearly not interested in Jesus or being saved by him too. Jesus says that the poor will be blessed and the rich will be in big trouble; the hungry will be satisfied and the wealthy will be in need. The peace makers will be called God’s children but it seems the peace makers are being killed. So do you believe him?
It seems that Jesus and his teachings are incomprehensible. There were people who stood face-to-face with Jesus and said, “This is God incarnate.” There appear to be many others who said, “This man is nuts.” But for most of us, we believe Jesus is the Son of God. He is our Savior. Jesus is not incomprehensible, but His teachings are difficult. That is the reason why after two thousand years, the world is still not able to accept Him as its Savior and his way as the way to peace and salvation. We need to continue to define who Jesus is to us and to the world.
We are witnessing violently anti-American rallies around the Islamic world. This explosion of anger in violence is rooted deeper in people’s hearts than the reaction over a video denigrating the Prophet Muhammad. The maker of the video and the reaction are the evidence of what has been present in the human hearts. The violent protests have expanded to more than a dozen countries, with demonstrators breaching the United States Embassy in Tunisia for the first time and protesters in Sudan’s capital broadening the targets to include Germany and Britain and Australia. Four American diplomats were killed.
Amid the conflicts, as the Vicar of Christ in the world, on his trip to the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI is calling on the people of Lebanon, Christians and Muslims, to be a model of peace and religious freedom in the tumultuous Middle East. The Pope met with Lebanese officials and religious leaders Saturday at the presidential palace in Beirut, where he was met by cheering crowds. The pope said Christians and Muslims in Lebanon have shared the same space for centuries and that families often have members of both religions. He asked, “If this is possible in one single family, why would it be impossible at the level of the society as a whole?”
More than ever, Christians around the world need to define who Jesus Christ is to them and to the world. Jesus doesn’t expect you to save the whole world, but he expects you to define who He is to you in the world today!