24th OT B ~ "Who?" ~ Susan McGurgan

Updated: Sep 21, 2021


But who do you say that I am?


She had gone to church her whole life.


The flicker of candles and the smell of beeswax;

the light glancing through stained-glass,

painting the floor in a riot of colors,

the comforting solidity of the marble pillars—

These were as much a part of her

as her unruly hair,

her smart mouth

and her weakness for murder mysteries.


Church was the place you went

for all the important milestones in life…

birth,

marriage…

death…

It was the place you spent Sunday mornings,

rain or shine,

good times or bad,

whether you really wanted to be there

or not.


If she had ever

Just once,

stopped to think about it,

she might have wondered

if she still believed—

or if she ever really had…


If she had ever

just once,

stopped to think about it,

she might have wondered

if faith made a difference;

if prayer really mattered;

if ritual meant anything more than

the comforting haze of incense

and the quiet peace after communion.

But the truth is,

she never really thought about it.


In her family,

Church was simply something that you did—

Just Because.

Church was a sure bet,

like changing your oil every 3,000 miles

or unplugging the computer in a thunderstorm.

It was good for you—

like fiber,

and vitamins,

and a solid insurance policy.


But who do you say that I am?


The older she got, though,

the more that question began to linger and nag.

A friend’s suicide,

her mother’s cancer,

a career that never really soared,

a rocky relationship…

She felt weary, sometimes—

Untethered.

Even lost.


She started to wonder if the question,

“Who do you say that I am?”

might be closely related to the question,

“Who do you say YOU are?”

For if, like Peter, we are bold enough to say,

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

then maybe,

just maybe,

her own life would have to change, too.


But who do you say that I am?


That question—asked of Peter

and James and Andrew,

is a question Jesus asks each of us.


It is a question that can be easy to answer

on those days when you celebrate with family,

when a friend reaches out to forgive,

when joy overflows like champagne,

when all of the frayed bits of your life start to align,

and the world seems right.

But that question,

“Who do you say that I am?”

comes to us

not just from places of triumph and success,

but from places of ambiguity, conflict, and pain.

It comes to us from the wilderness places,

where the uneasy borders between hope and foolishness,

between life and death,

between success and failure

become blurred.


It comes to us when we feel

Untethered.

Weary.

Lost.


It comes to us when we wonder

if maybe,

just maybe

it is time for us to change.


But who do you say that I am?


This question continues to echo from Philippi.

It lingers in the air of a camp just across the Texas border.

It whispers from an operating room

and reverberates in the stairwell of a transient hotel.

It can be heard just over the prayers of a funeral mass

and it can be seen written on the faces of the crowd---any crowd.

It comes to us, unbidden,

in the rising incense

and in the cool stillness after communion.


Who do you say that I am?


Is Jesus a good man,

who, like so many other good men,

died before his time?

Is he a prophet?

A teacher?

A revolutionary hero?

A great moral leader?

A fool?


Or is he the Messiah,

the Son of the Living God,

the fulfillment of the promise,

The Liberator, who died to set us free?


After Jesus asked that question,

he summoned the crowd and said to them,

“Whoever wishes to come after me

must deny themselves,

take up their cross,

and follow me.”


For the shattered and grieving family;

for the woman betrayed by her lover;

for the man who faces a grim diagnosis,

for the teen age boy, struggling with addiction,

these are hard words to hear--

even harder to accept.

Isn’t life itself burden enough to carry?

Don’t we struggle enough?

Must we take on the weight and splinters of a cross, too?


But the truth is,

only the cross

with its vertical arms reaching up to God

and its horizontal arms reaching out to the world,

can bear the weight of human suffering.

Only the cross contains the promise

that death is not the final word

and the tomb is not our lasting home.

Only the cross

anchors us firmly in the promise of eternal life.


The cross is our only hope.


Who do you say that I am?


In the end,

this question does not really demand an answer,

so much as an action—

a visceral and physical response to this invitation,

“whoever wishes to come after me

must deny themselves,

take up their cross

and follow me.”

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