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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon

14th September 2003

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity 13

Some of you may have read a newspaper article in the week about an American artist, John Currin. Beginning by saying that we admire painters like Rembrandt for their ability to portray great depth of character the writer contrasts Currin's gift as being able to capture in paint the 'the faces of people who have no interior life at all'. There is little to find out about such people. In defining themselves by their possessions they hide an inner emptiness. We are not drawn to get to know them better because there is very little to get to know.

I found myself contrasting that with the story in today's gospel reading. In it Jesus asks the disciples 'but who do you say that I am?' People were already wondering who Jesus was, John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets. It was Peter who saw Jesus' true identity. 'You are the Messiah.'

That question is the most profound in history. All of us are called to tackle it at a personal level and to come up with our own particular answer. As Christians our calling is encourage and enable others to answer it too.

Many have heard Jesus' question and given their own answer, some in faith others in disbelief. Yet in our own day so many seem indifferent, immune, shut off to the claims of Jesus.

Deep down we all have our own questions. We wonder about the purpose of our life and we struggle to make sense of the evil and suffering around us. The task of the Church is to connect her faith in Jesus with the similar questioning of those around us. If that happens then people can begin to hear Jesus' question, 'but who do you say that I am?'

But I think there is more to the apparent resistance to give serious attention to such matters of faith and to the person of Jesus. To begin to attempt to answer Jesus' question is to be quickly be faced with questions about our own person. What is it we most value, where are we heading in life?

Once we begin to hear the questions that Jesus asks of us then the question of our response arises. What are we going to do, how will respond to Our Lord's call?

Peter soon learnt what being Messiah would mean for Jesus. 'The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.'

Peter's response was to rebuke Jesus. For that, he in turn was rebuked with the chilling words, 'Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.' Then comes Jesus' call to discipleship, with its summons to follow in the way of the cross and self-denial.

Behind the apparent unwillingness of some to answer the question about Jesus' identity is the all too natural desire to cushion ourselves from the implications of his call to discipleship. For those of us who are people of faith the danger is to become immune to the call to discipleship through the very familiarity of our faith.

It is only when we are given the grace to believe that discipleship is the way to life, that we can freely choose it, accepting that if we seek to save our life we loose it and if we lose it for Jesus' sake we save it.

The saints are those who have answered Jesus' question, 'but who do you say that I am?' with Peter's 'You are the Messiah'. They are those who have heard the call to follow Jesus in the way of the cross and in so doing have found it to be the way to life.

To return to the subject of portraits it for such reasons that Rembrandt's self-portraits in extreme old age have such power to move us. They reveal the hidden depth of a Christian life that knew great suffering and through it the possibility of redemption.


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Last updated 14/09/2003 09:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd