“I hope you didn’t take it personally, Father,” an embarrassed man said to his pastor after the Mass, “that my dad walked out during your homily.” “I did find it rather disconcerting,” the pastor replied. “It’s not a reflection on you, Father,” he insisted. “My dad told me that he has been walking in his sleep ever since he was a child.” Happy Father’s day! All the Fathers will have a special blessing at the end of the Mass today.
On Sunday morning a man showed up at Church with both of his ears terribly blistered. So his pastor asked, “What happened to you Jim?” Jim said: “I was lying on the couch watching a ball game on TV while my wife was ironing nearby. I was totally engrossed in the game when she went out, leaving the iron near the phone. The phone rang, and keeping my eyes on the TV, I grabbed the hot iron and put it to my ear.” “How dreadful,” gasped the pastor. “But how did the other ear get burned?” “Well, you see, I’d no sooner hung up, the guy called back!” He just didn’t get it. Lots of folks never get it and never understand how life really works, even at the simplest levels. That’s why Jesus is pressing his followers — and us with a challenging question in today’s Gospel: “Who do you say that I am?”
It is said that young Nail Armstrong didn’t answer the question by saying to Jesus, “You are the Son of God,” or “You are the Messiah,” or “You are the Second Person of the Trinity.” He answered it much more simply. He said: “You are a sinless person. You are a selfless person. You are a person who cares. You are a person who is close to God.” In other words, Neil Armstrong didn’t give a theological answer to the question “who you do say that I am?” He gave a personal answer. He looked into his own heart and descried how he experienced Jesus in his personal life.
Each one of us must do the same thing. We must answer Jesus’ question – “who do you say that I am?” by looking into our heart and describing how we experience Jesus in our person life. And that experience is different for each of us.
For some of us, Jesus is a person we can turn to for guidance in times of confusion. For others, he is someone we can turn to for strength in times of trail. For still others, he is someone who understands us, even when we don’t understand ourselves.
And this bring us to the second half of today’s gospel. If the first of half of the gospel asks the question “how do we experience Jesus?” the second half asks the question “How does Jesus experience us?”
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” These words of Jesus challenge us to ask ourselves, “How does Jesus experience us? Does he experience us as his followers?” In other words, do we pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus?
A husband who came home from church and looked for his wife. When he saw her at the kitchen, he suddenly lifted her and carried her around. The wife was startled and said, “Why did you do that? Did the priest tell you to be romantic?” The husband replied: “No. He told me to carry my cross!”
Dear friends! Crosses come in different forms like: the difficulty to support your children to school, the patience to bear sickness and bodily pains, the commitment to live marriage vows faithfully, the ability to forgive erring members of the family, the struggle to be honest with our work, the sincerity to observe religious life, financial problem, a nagging arthritis or lingering illness, the inconveniences and anguish of relatives taking care of a paralyzed son or a bedridden grandparent, who they know will never walk again and many others. The list of human sufferings is endless.
In all these struggles do we imitate Jesus in our daily life? Are we for other people what Jesus is for us? Are we persons to whom others can turn for strength in times of trial? Are we persons to whom others can turn for guidance in times of confusion? Are we persons to whom others can turn for help in times of need?
In brief, today’s gospel puts before us two important questions: First is, how do we experience Jesus? Do we experience him as someone who plays an important part in our daily life? Or is Jesus merely someone we think about for an hour on Sunday and forget about the rest of the week?
The second question is even more important. How does Jesus experience us? Does he experience us as his followers? Or does he merely experience us as his fan? Are we persons who imitate Jesus? Or are we persons who merely admire him? Do we pick up our cross and follow him daily? Or do we merely sit on the sidelines and applaud him as he carries his cross alone?
These are the two important questions the gospel puts before each one of us today: Who is Jesus in our life? Who are we in Jesus’ life? No one can answer those questions for us. We must answer them ourselves.