Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Why? That’s the question the whole country has been asking this past week following the horrific shootings in Orlando. Why? Why did he do it? How could he have treated the lives of other people with such contempt? What were his motives?
We only have a few small pieces of information to work with, but many theories have already surfaced. Maybe he was moved by hatred for our country, influenced for foreign terrorists. Maybe he was motivated by an extremist form of religion. Maybe he acted out of hate for others whose way of life he couldn’t understand or accept. Or maybe it was really out of hatred for himself. The fact of the matter is that we may never know for sure.
Why? The unanswered question troubles us in the face of such unspeakable violence. But while it troubles us, it really shouldn’t surprise us. I know there are plenty of times when I have more than enough trouble just figuring out myself. Why did you do that? What were you thinking? And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this! St. Paul himself wrestles with the fact that he often fails to do the good he wants, and instead does the evil he hates (cf. Rom 15, 19). If we can’t get to the bottom of our own motives, what makes us think we’ll get to the bottom of what was going on in someone else’s mind and heart?
2,000 years ago, the crowds were trying to figure out another man. This Jesus—who is he? What makes him tick? Why does he speak the way he speaks? Why does he do the things he does? What are his motives? Who does he think he is? Jesus himself knew their thoughts, and asks his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Their answers were perfectly reasonable: “He is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the other prophets returned from the grave!” Their answers are all very reasonable…and all of them are dead wrong.
Who is this Jesus? Like Peter, we know who he really is…but certainly not because we’ve figured him out on our own. If we can’t understand ourselves, how could we ever get to the bottom of the Only Begotten Son of God? We know because God revealed himself to us. In Jesus, God tells us about himself. In Jesus, we have a window onto the heart of God. But Jesus isn’t only true God; he is also true man. Jesus doesn’t only reveal God to us; he also reveals us to ourselves. The first chapter of the Bible told us that man, unlike any of the other creatures, was created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27). We see that image most clearly in Christ. Jesus is the human person as he was originally meant to be.
What Jesus asks his disciples that day is quite possibly the most critical question in all of human history: “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a question that each one of us must answer for himself—not with answers from the Bible or the Catechism, but with one that comes from our own heart and convictions and experience. The way we answer that question matters so much because upon it depends our salvation! And how we look at Jesus makes all the difference in how we see ourselves and how we see one another. The divine image and likeness that we recognize in Christ is the one we also ought to recognize in the mirror, and ought to recognize in every other person—not just other Catholics, and not just other Christians, but in every man, woman, and child, no matter their race or religion, no matter their way of life. Seeing in this way changes everything!
Why? Finding the answer to that question pales when compared to how we must respond to the other: “Who do you say that I am?”
When we see Jesus, let us always see our truest selves. And when we see our neighbor, let us always see Jesus.