“Who do you say that I am? Odd question actually. Those of us who do not know ourselves very well ask the question out of desperate need. We are looking for others to provide definition for us by telling us we are needed, successful, attractive etc. But if we, like Jesus, already know who we are, then the question becomes a matter of instruction. There is something in this question for us and the world to learn.

To get the rhythm of the text we need to back up to the question Jesus has already answered, “Who do I say that I am?” If we can get this down we can maybe see the prophetic power in the second question, a power that has fueled non-violent liberation movements for generations.

Who do I say that I am?

Jesus grew up in a world that was governed by a rigid social hierarchy where everyone knew their place. Boys and girls did what their parents did. Whether you were a slave, a peasant, a merchant or in the elite there was no mystery at all about who you were and who was superior to you. In Jesus, however, we have someone who mysteriously combines the human and the divine and teaches we all share this mysterious combination. The mystery is back. Who am I? It is now a great question. The entire social system was suddenly at risk!

Is our world with its superficial conclusions about us all that different? Getting to our true selves, however, can be a wild ride. Peter’s erratic faith journey with Jesus can be seen as a metaphor for our internal journey with the spark of divine life within us. Peter initially was willing to change his entire world to follow this Life, and perhaps you have felt that way after a moment of awakening. But shortly thereafter he wanted to control this Life. He even scolded it! Then again stuck around and did not quit when he clearly did not understand and others were leaving. In today’s gospel, in a moment of gifted clarity he names this Life as divine. Then Peter denied he even knew this Life. He abandoned the Life when it got too scary. At the end he returned.

If you want to know what it is like to get to know the divine spark within, get to know Peter. It is hard work to embrace the mystery of both human and divine at work in you. It is a journey of a lifetime.

Being Who I Say I Am In the World

But if we can stick with it answer the question “Who do I say that I am?” we can then challenge the world, or join with others challenging the world, by asking “Who do YOU say that I am?” This question has been the central tactic of non-violent social change from Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr., to Nelson Mandela. It exposes the fake tolerance that says “I love my slaves and take good care of them.” Or “A woman’s role in the church is very important, just different than men.” Or “I have friends who are gay, I am not prejudiced.”

But Jesus’ question is hard to dodge and when the real definitions come out many, but not all, choke on the definitions supporting discrimination. Answers such as “You are inferior” in the case of race,” You are disordered” in the case of orientation “You are too emotional and not qualified for leadership” in the case of gender eventually cause people of good will to squirm and change.

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr., gave a speech about a dream. It was a happy coincidence that by 1963 millions of people owned TVs and the speech was transmitted live by three networks. America in the north and south saw passion, but no hate. They saw great intelligence weaving theology, history, politics and philosophy into a beautiful narrative. Behind the powerful words I believe millions being exposed to the civil rights movement for the first time heard a powerful rendition of the question from an African American, “Who do YOU say that I am?”

Who Do I Say That You Are?

Most of us will not be involved in liberation movements day to day, but can you see what a gifted role we can play? Given all the false messages we receive and our brothers and sisters receive, we can join in the tradition of liberation whenever we ask “Who do we say that you are?” It is a prophetic day if we ask ourselves this question at the grocery store, or in the midst of the social hierarchy of our job. It is a prophetic day if we ask this question every time we meet as we greet hope to greet everyone as a unique, mysterious combination of humanity and divinity regardless of nationality, creed, gender, orientation or credit score.

For centuries folks have visited Christian churches and found there people eager to tell them about who God is. Let’s be a community that is eager most of all to tell all who will listen who they are.


George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
Saturday Evening, June 28, 2014
Focus text: Matthew 16:13-19

Photo by InSapphoWeTrust on flickr.com