Are you like Christ?

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

Luke has developed a kind of literary device to indicate that Jesus was about to make an important decision: he portrays Jesus at prayer. Not that Jesus did not constantly pray. He did. He always communed with His Father. So when Luke introduced the gospel reading (Lk. 9: 18-24) with the words, "Once when Jesus was praying in solitude," we are to expect something important was about to happen. This time, Jesus revealed His identity to His disciples.

Jesus' approach was informal and indirect. He asked His disciples who had been interacting with the people, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They replied that some thought Him to be John the Baptist, others Elijah or Jeremiah. Obviously, the crowd had a very high regard of Jesus. John the Baptist was feared and eventually ordered to be killed by King Herod for calling a spade a spade. Elijah, aside from being a prophet, was also the frontrunner of the Kingdom. Jeremiah was the great prophet of the Exile.

However, if Jesus were no more than a prophet, then His life and death would be emptied of its central meaning. So He now turned to His disciples who had been with Him for three years now and asked, "But you -- who do you say that I am?" As in other instances, it was Peter who answered for the group. He replied, "You are the Christ of God." With this, Peter more than just answered Jesus' question. He professed His faith in Him. Peter, in identifying Jesus as the Christ, was in effect saying that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, the promised one who had come to inaugurate the Kingdom of God among people who had been wallowing in despair, loneliness and helplessness as they still do today.

When we ask people about themselves, they often talk about their jobs or interests. They tell us of their achievements, say, in the field of business, government, academics, sports or entertainment. They gauge their success with how much money they make, what schools their children go to or how comfortable their life has become. When they lose these, they consider themselves worthless. What then is important for them or for people in general is what they do and possess and not who they really are.

Jesus' identification of Himself is significant for our faith life. If we identify Jesus as the Christ and understand that His Kingdom or reign does not begin after death but now, then we also identify who we are and will become. The questions we ask will be different. So will the direction of our life and our outlook. For example, in carrying out a certain project, our primary concern is no longer whether we make money out of it or it will enhance our career but whether it is God's will and therefore can increase our love for Him. In short, we begin to be concerned with what really matters: our relationship with God and His Son.

We claim to be followers of Jesus. As such, the question that should concern us is no longer, "Do you believe in Christ?" Rather, it is, "Are you like Christ?"

Along this line, let us have a little exercise. Suppose someone asks you the question "Are you like Christ?" what will be your reaction? Perhaps, you will be annoyed at being subjected to such a personal question. Or as some teachers in classrooms do, you turn the question around and ask, "Is anyone?" Or you will frankly say, "I'm not but I would like to be." What is our own answer to this vital question? Do we count ourselves with the third group?

After Jesus identified Himself, He also told the disciples the defining characteristic of His person: He must suffer many things, be rejected and killed but on the third day He will be raised to life. In turn, Jesus taught us to make the cross as our defining characteristic: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." The cross is the price of discipleship. Taking up the cross is to die to ourselves so that we can become more and more like Christ and thus be raised to eternal life.

Tradition has it that when Peter was about to be crucified, he asked to be nailed on the cross upside down. This because he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same way as his Master was. It was Peter's way of showing that throughout his life he struggled to be more and more like Christ but still felt short of this goal.

As believers in Jesus, are we ready to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him? We should. For doing so is our way of showing that we want to identify ourselves with Christ whose own life was characterized by the cross.