12 Sunday C - Who do you say that I am?

From the Connections:
Today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel is the first of three predictions Jesus makes regarding the cross awaiting him in Jerusalem.  He prepares Peter and the disciples for the revelation of the horrifying passion he will endure by asking them who they believe he is.  Jesus responds to Peter's proclamation of faith in him as “the Messiah” by confronting his followers with the cost of that faith: to cast aside an image of ourselves based on worldly illusions and finding the meaning of life in the servanthood of the cross.

The cross is the instrument through which God re-creates us and all creation. In the crucified Jesus, God’s love can be seen, felt and experienced.
Jesus confronts us with the same question he poses to his disciples.  Everything we say and do is our response to that question; every decision and choice we make proclaims exactly who we believe this Jesus to be.  Every moment of our lives declares our faith in Jesus, “the Christ of God,” who comes to restore us to hope and transform us in the justice and peace of God.
We tend to see ourselves, for the most part, as the center of our own little universe.  But to become true followers of Jesus, we must place ourselves second – “deny” ourselves – for the sake of others, in imitation of Christ, the Servant-Redeemer.

Lit is Mary Karr’s best-selling memoir of her descent into alcoholism and madness — and her astonishing resurrection.
Dev is Mary’s five-year-old son, the light of Mary’s train-wreck of a life.  Mary recounts an episode in which her difficult mother comes to visit.  Mary’s mother has been fighting her own demons of alcoholism and depression.   The visit does not go well.  Grandma becomes very impatient with Dev over a cookie.  She threatens Dev for what she sees as the boy’s insolent behavior — but Mary intervenes.
When Mary puts Dev to bed that night, she asks Dev if Grandma scared him, if he was afraid she might hurt the little boy.
Dev gives his mom a puzzled look that said Why would I be worried?
Dev tells Mary, “Mom, you’d never allow that to happen.”
Mary writes that she has included the story in her book “as a boast, for that sentence might be the most gratifying endorsement I ever got.”

A child’s unwavering trust in Mom and Dad — is there a more accurate and revealing measure of who we are and all that we believe and value?  Everything we say and do is our response to the question Jesus asks Peter and the others in today’s Gospel — and asks us every day of our lives:  Who do you say I am?  Every decision and choice we make proclaims exactly who we believe this Jesus to be; every moment of our lives declares our faith in Jesus, “the Christ of God,” who comes to restore us to hope and transform us in the justice and peace of God.  
Jude Botelho:

Today’s first reading from Zachariah speaks of the prophecy of the final restoration of Jerusalem. This Old Testament prophecy pictures God pouring out on the House of David a spirit of grace, but in a situation of suffering. This spirit will bring about a new understanding of Jesus and a greater personal intimacy with God. This prophecy was brought to its fulfillment on the day of Pentecost with the presence and activity of the Spirit in the Christian community of which the early Christians were so acutely aware.

Enlightened by the Spirit
Suppose you walk into town looking for your friend Wantok’s house. You meet a fellow and ask him where it is. And he says something like, “Oh, yes, just go down the main street there until you come to a church, then turn right and go down two more streets, then turn left... Your Wantok’s house is the fifth one on the right side of that street.” If you heard all of that, you would probably forget it very easily, so this man sees that you are puzzled and he says to you, “Forget all about the directions. I’ll go along with you and show you the way. Follow me.” -That is what the Spirit does in our life. He shows us the way to Jesus.
Frank Michalic in ‘1000 stories you can use’

In today’s gospel Jesus asks his disciples what people think about him. That question was easy and the disciples were quick to respond: “Some say you are John the Baptist, others Elijah and still others say you are one of the prophets.” Then Jesus asks the all-important question: “But you, who do you say that I am?” That question demands a personal answer. After Peter confesses: ‘You are the Christ of God’, Jesus warns them about his forthcoming passion and death, as if to remind them and us that all those who confess and believe in him must know that they are called to follow him even to death. “To this question thirty, forty, even fifty years of life have not yet fitted me for the reply I should like to make: that He is my life. And if Jesus is someone for me, it is first because he was someone for others and so became incarnate in my life through the lives of believers, who showed forth more or less well the faith by which they lived. Our immense responsibility is to be mirrors, even if not good ones, reflecting the image of the Lord.”

No pain no gain
Some time ago several movies reflected the connection that exists between suffering and success. The Rocky series about boxing, Chariots of Fire about track events, Vision Quest about wrestling, illustrate how pain is the price athletes have to pay for victory. We get the same message from television, too. Paper Chase about lawyers, St. Elsewhere about doctors, and Fame about theatre performers emphasize how long hours of study and training are necessary to become a true professional. In other words the common athlete locker room slogan of “No pain no gain” fits especially well in libraries, labs and dressing rooms. The message is the same –without discipline there can be no development; without denial, no dedication; without some suffering, no success. A similar message appears in today’s readings.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

Paying the price…
Mr. Girard, an atheist millionaire of Philadelphia, one Saturday ordered all his clerks to come the next day to his wharf and help unload the newly arrived ship. One young man replied quietly: “Mr. Girard, I can’t work on Sundays.” “You know our rules?” “Yes, I know, but I can’t work on Sundays.” “Well, step up to the desk and the cashier will settle with you.” For three weeks the young man could find no work, but one day a banker came to Girard to ask if he could recommend a man for cashier in a new bank. The discharged young man was at once named as a suitable person. Although Girard had dismissed the man, he recognized his sterling character. Anyone who could sacrifice his own interests for what he believed to be right would make a loyal trustworthy cashier.
Anthony Castle in ‘More Quotes and Anecdotes’

What do you know of Jesus?
A poor illiterate man wanted to be baptized. The parish priest asked him many questions to see whether he was fit for baptism. “Where was Jesus born? How many apostles did he have? How many years did he live? Where did he die? The poor man knew nothing of all these questions. Irritated, the priest then said, “At least you know prayers like the Our Father and the I Believe”? The man again shook his head. “What do you know then?” asked the priest flabbergasted. The man explained, “Before I met Jesus I was a drunkard who beat up my wife and children; I lost my job and was wasting my life.” Then he continued, “But after encountering Jesus, I’ve quit drinking. I work hard and have begun to love my family. For me Jesus is my personal Saviour!”
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’

Carrying our own cross
Wilma Rudolf was a disaster from birth. She was a tiny premature baby, who caught pneumonia, then scarlet fever and finally polio. The polio left one leg badly crippled, with her foot twisted inward. Until the age of seven Wilma hobbled around on metal braces. Then she asked her sister to watch while she practiced walking without braces. She kept this up every day, afraid her parents might discover what she was doing, and she would have to stop. Eventually, feeling guilty, she told her doctor, who was flabbergasted. However, he gave her permission to continue as she was, but only for a short period of time. Wilma worked at it until she was able to throw away her crutches for good. She progressed to running and by the time she was sixteen she won a bronze medal in a relay race in the Melbourne Olympics. Four years later in the Rome Olympics, she became the first woman to win three gold medals in track and field. She returned to a ticket tape welcome in the US, had a private meeting with President Kennedy, and received the Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete. – It is in facing up to the daily carrying of the cross that releases within us our full potential.
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth’

Daily Martyrdom
Yesterday I met a mother who has a daughter studying in Europe. One of her friends was flying to Europe, and she had cooked some sweets for her daughter. She had worked very long on her gift and packed it carefully. At the airport a custom-house officer told her: “You are not allowed to fly that present out.” They both knew this was nonsense. They both knew what was expected. She told him: “No, I am not going to bribe,” and the food stayed there. She is still so sad about it that she hasn’t eaten any of it herself. We should not dramatize a gesture like that. Jesus would definitely see it in the light of his struggle, in the light of his cross. That is what he meant with his daily martyrdom, witnessing (because that is what martyr means) in your pain to the reality he stood for. The reality we should stand for daily.
Joseph Donders in ‘Praying and Preaching the Sunday Gospel’
Fr. Tony Kadavil:

#1: “Who is Jesus?

In his teens, C.S. Lewis was a professed agnostic. He was influenced in his conversion to Christianity by G.K. Chesterton’s book, The Everlasting Man, and by two of his Christian friends. After his conversion, he wrote a number of books defending Christianity. During the Second World War in his famous BBC radio talk, Mere Christianity, he said, “I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who is merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic, on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg, or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” If we accept Jesus as a moral teacher, then we must necessarily accept Him as God, for great moral teachers do not tell lies. (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies)
# 2: “Who do you say that I am?”
On Sunday morning a man showed up at Church with both of his ears terribly blistered. So his pastor asked, "What happened to you Jim?" Jim said: "I was lying on the couch watching a ball game on TV while my wife was ironing nearby. I was totally engrossed in the game when she went out, leaving the iron near the phone. The phone rang, and keeping my eyes on the TV, I grabbed the hot iron and put it to my ear." "How dreadful," gasped the pastor. "But how did the other ear get burned?" "Well, you see, I'd no sooner hung up, the guy called back!" He just didn't get it. Lots of folks never get it and never understand how life really works, even at the simplest levels. That's why Jesus is pressing his followers — and us with a challenging question in today’s Gospel: “Who do you say that I am?” (Msgr. Dennis Clarke)
# 3: “Suppose Jesus were to come here."
Without the 19th century essayist Charles Lamb, William Shakespeare would be “missing in action.” Mr. Lamb's essays snatched the 17th century playwright from undeserved obscurity after he had been famous for Andy Warhol's fifteen minutes. One night, Lamb and his guests were chatting about the Bard over Spanish port and Cuban cigars. "Supposing," one asked Lamb, "Shakespeare were to stroll into our dining room at this moment." The essayist replied, "We would raise a glass of port to the great man." "Supposing," asked another, "Jesus were to come here." Lamb answered, "We would all get down on our knees.” There is the essential difference between the Man from Nazareth and all other great people you can think of. The Christ is God, and all others, no matter what their deeds, are but fools who strut on the stage for a brief time and then exit. (Fr. Gilhooly).


The noted author, John Killinger, tells a powerful story about a man who is all-alone in a hotel room in Canada. The man is in a state of deep depression. He is so depressed that he can't even bring himself to go downstairs to the restaurant to eat.

He is a powerful man usually the chairman of a large shipping company but at this moment, he is absolutely overwhelmed by the pressures and demands of life... and he lies there on a lonely hotel bed far from home wallowing in self-pity.

All of his life, he has been fastidious, worrying about everything, anxious and fretful, always fussing and stewing over every detail. And now, at mid-life, his anxiety has gotten the best of him, even to the extent that it is difficult for him to sleep and to eat.

He worries and broods and agonizes about everything, his business, his investments, his decisions, his family, his health, even, his dogs. Then, on this day in this Canadian hotel, he craters. He hits bottom. Filled with anxiety, completely immobilized, paralyzed by his emotional despair, unable to leave his room, lying on his bed, he moans out loud: "Life isn't worth living this way, I wish I were dead!"

And then, he wonders, what God would think if he heard him talking this way. Speaking aloud again he says, "God, it's a joke, isn't it? Life is nothing but a joke." Suddenly, it occurs to the man that this is the first time he's talked to God since he was a little boy. He is silent for a moment and then he begins to pray. He describes it like this: "I just talked out loud about what a mess my life was in and how tired I was and how much I wanted things to be different in my life. And you know what happened next? A voice!! I heard a voice say, 'It doesn't have to be that way!' That's all."

He went home and talked to his wife about what happened. He talked to his brother who is a minister and asked him: "Do you think it was God speaking to me?" The brother said: "Of course, because that is the message of God to you and everyone of us. That's the message of the Bible. That's why Jesus Christ came into the world to save us, to deliver us, to free us, to change us and to show us that 'It doesn't have to be that way.' A few days later, the man called his brother and said, "You were right. It has really happened. I've done it. I've had a rebirth. I'm a new man. Christ has turned it around for me."

Well, the man is still prone to anxiety. He still has to work hard. But, now he has a source of strength. During the week, he often leaves his work-desk and goes to the church near his office. He sits there and prays. He says: "It clears my head. It reminds me of who I am and whose I am. Each time as I sit there in the Sanctuary, I think back to that day in that hotel room in Canada and how depressed and lonely and lost I felt and I hear that voice saying: It doesn't have to be that way.'"

That is precisely what this story is all about....

How do you handle what happens when you're not prepared for what happens? Well, sometimes not all that well.

I would like to call your attention to a movie, Cheaper By The Dozen, starring Steve Martin. There are numerous scenes in this movie that illustrate how one father tries to take care of things while his wife is away. This movie is about a father who has just gotten his dream job of coaching football at his college alma mater. But this job change calls for him, his wife, their twelve children - yes, twelve - to move from their beloved home and community in order for Dad to get his wish fulfilled. No sooner have they settled into their new home, than his wife, who has been writing a book on how to successfully raise twelve children, is off to New York City to clinch a deal to have her book published. She learns that the deal also involves obligatory cross-country tour engagements to promote it. Meanwhile, Coach/Dad is back home trying to handle this tribe and his new job at the university. The truth is, there is just too much going on for anyone to manage all this.

In a last-minute, desperate attempt to salvage everything, Coach/Dad comes up with a plan. He has the football team come over to his house for the briefing sessions and then takes the children who are not already in school to work with him at the university. Trying to work and take care of the kids at both home and school turns out to be another disaster. Things are so messed up, that Coach/Dad finally resorts to lying to his wife on the phone. He tells her that he has everything under control, when actually everything is in utter chaos. Meanwhile, the university officials and local media representatives are raising the same question. Can this man coach two teams, the one at home and the one at the university? There's ample evidence that he cannot.

As I look back on my own fathering days, I don't believe I was ever in over my head as much as this dad was. But then, I didn't have twelve children and a wife on a book tour across the U.S.

We all know what it feels like to be in over our heads. But I think the demon-possessed man in Luke's story probably knew it better than most, for he was literally in over his head.

What happens when you're not prepared for what happens? It can take various forms. In this healing story, we see a variety of reactions...
Regardless of the Cost?

I recently came across an excellent illustration that manifests the difference between intellectual faith and genuine faith. In the late 1890's, a famous tightrope walker strung a wire across Niagara Falls. As 10,000 people watched, he inched his way along the wire from one side of the falls to the other.

When he got to the other side, the crowd cheered wildly. Finally, the tightrope walker was able to quiet the crowd and shouted to them, 'Do you believe in me?'. The crowd shouted back, 'We believe! We believe!'.

Again he quieted the crowd and shouted to them, 'I'm going back across the tightrope but this time I'm going to carry someone on my back. Do you believe I can do that?'. The crowd yelled back, 'We believe! We believe!'. He quieted the crowd one more time and then asked them, 'Who will be that person?'.

The crowd suddenly became silent. Not a single person was willing to apply the very truth that they professed to believe in--that the tightrope walker could cross the falls with a person on his back.

We may believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but does our faith surpass the faith of demons? Are we willing trust our lives with Jesus? Are we willing to follow Him regardless of the cost?

Bryn MacPhail, Surpassing the Faith of Demons

Return Home and Tell How Much God Has Done for You

As Ted Peters once pointed out, in the English language, it's curious that the word evil is "live" spelled backwards. And indeed, evil always destroys. Life is diminished if not wiped out where the demons rule. The death of the pigs reflects that. What's more, in the Ancient Near East, the sea represented one of the forces of chaos that people feared. So it's a double-whammy: first there is death but second there is death by drowning in the sea, thus piling up and compounding the sense of chaos and evil in this story.

But the sad spectacle of those hapless pigs rushing headlong into the sea also reminds us that the expelling of evil from our world always involves sacrifice. For whatever the reason, God does not simply wave a magic wand to eliminate evil. Rooting out evil takes time, takes effort, and takes above all sacrifice. This should hardly come as any surprise, however, to people who live their lives in the shadow of a cross.

One final point, however: Jesus was chased away by the townsfolk but the healed man remained and according to verse 39, he kept on talking about what Jesus had done. Something about his ongoing witness reminds us that this is also our role: lots of people in this world try to chase Jesus away. Our task is to hang around anyway and to just keep talking, just keep witnessing to Jesus' work, and just keep hoping that at the end of the day, that witness will bring people back to the very Jesus they once chased away. "Return home and tell how much God has done for you," Jesus told this man.

He tells the rest of us the exact same thing.

Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations
Speaking to Our Day

Does the story of the Gerasene demoniac speak to OUR day as it did its own? Absolutely! To the church which battles the demons of social evil, the message is there is hope in Jesus. To individuals for whom there is an everyday battle ongoing with the demon of depression, the message is there is hope in Jesus. To those who battle the demon of fear, the message is there is hope in Jesus. Those who fight the demon of addiction, the message is there is hope in Jesus. And to those who have so many battles going on against so many demons that their name is LEGION, the message is there is hope in Jesus.

David E. Leininger, Collected Sermons,
What Have You to Do with Me?

"What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the most high God?" the demented man cries out. Again we have a standard question in the demonology of the time. In the Gospels the demons are pictured as being scared stiff of the power of Jesus Christ. They try to get away from Him as fast as they can! This may sound quaint to us, but I would suggest this morning that in a deeper sense it is a question that has been put to Jesus by individuals and societies again and again. "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?" "Leave us alone. Mind your own business. Keep your hands off my life." "What have you to do with me?" the demented man asked. The answer is that Jesus has everything to do with him. Jesus had come to cure him and restore him to his right mind. He has authority over even the demonic: "Come out of him, you unclean spirit!" (Mark 5 v.8) He says. And it is done. Just so Jesus has cast unclean spirits out of men and women down through the ages - spirits of greed, lust, hypocrisy, aggression. That is not theory, it is history.

Donald B. Strobe, Collected Works,
Luther's Demons

Martin Luther, believed in demons but he believed in God more. In that great Hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" he writes:

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, One little word shall fell him.

That hymn, first published in 1529, has been called "the greatest hymn of the greatest man of the greatest period of German history." It has also been dubbed the "Battle Hymn of the Reformation" and with good reason. The Reformation touched off one of the most influential movements in world history. But before this famous Battle Hymn could be written Luther had to battle his personal demons and exorcize them from his own life. Luther felt utterly worthless and incapable of carrying the burdens of priesthood. On occasion Luther even flogged himself in an attempt to keep himself from sin.

He was often, he felt, pursued and tormented by Satan and his cohorts. Until one day, while reading Paul's letter to the Romans, he suddenly understood the meaning of God's grace and how it is appropriated by faith. In that moment he came to understand that he was justified before God through faith and not by his works.

You might say that after this experience Luther was no longer possessed by his demons, he was sitting upright, dressed, and in his right mind.

Brett Blair,


When Jesus asked the man his name, he answered, "Legion." A Roman legion was a regiment of 6,000 soldiers. Doubtless this man had seen a Roman legion on the march, and his poor, afflicted mind felt that there was not one demon but a whole regiment inside him. It may well be that the word haunted him because he had seen atrocities carried out by a Roman legion when he was a child.

William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975, p. 108.
When Jesus Comes To Town

In a recent lecture the popular author, Christopher Lasch, wonders about the lack of morality and human values in our society. Many liberals today, says Lasch, see public life as an amoral struggle for profit and power and relegate morality to the shadowy realm of private choice and "lifestyles." What we need, says Lasch, is a new sense of fraternalism, a new sense of brotherhood that is neither self-righteous nor exploitative. To bring more peace and wholeness we need to cast out the demons of greed and exploitation and indifference.

When Jesus comes into an area, he not only casts out demons, he changes the economy because he changes people, their goals and values. When Paul preached Christ's gospel in ancient Ephesus, the silversmiths and others, who made religious souvenirs and idols of the goddess, Diana, knew their economy was in trouble if Jesus' religion flourished.

John Newton, author of "Amazing Grace," finally stopped his slave trading when Jesus really got hold of his life. Charles Colson, Richard Nixon's hatchet man, was converted and now devotes his life to prison reform. What would happen to our frenetic age of greed if Jesus really got hold of us drove out our demons.

Maurice A. Fetty, The Divine Advocacy, CSS Publishing Company.
Is It A Devil or a Disease?

In polite society we have not wanted to talk much of demons and the demonic.

In our liberal, educated culture, we have believed that sin was due mostly to ignorance and that evil could be eradicated by education. In our psychologically enlightened times we have avoided the more ancient religious and mythological language of devils and evil. We have instead preferred words like repression, impulses, sublimation, drives, complexes, phobias, regression, neuroses, psychoses, manic-depressive, schizophrenic and schizoid -- to name a few.

If we have been suspicious of religious healers and exorcists and spiritual counselors, we have been implicitly trustful of psychiatrists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, counselors and therapy groups. If we have been doubtful of prayer, meditation and conversion, we have been trustful of amphetamines, barbiturates and tranquilizers, not to mention alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana. If in our time witch doctors have disappeared, strangely enough witches have reappeared by the thousands. Even exorcists are making a small comeback after considerable media exposure and hype.

Whether demons and the demonic are widely acknowledged in our time may be debated, but that they were common in Jesus' time we can have no doubt. In his time, when most illness was attributable to sin, it was but a short step to attribute all mental illness or epilepsy to demonic powers actually residing in the person and controlling him or her. Thus to cure a person of seizures or dementia or schizophrenia or melancholia, the healer had to have power not only to name the demon, but power to cast him out, to throw him out of the person's life.

Maurice A. Fetty, The Divine Advocacy, CSS Publishing Company.
My Real Problem Is That I Don't Like Myself

Some time ago, a young lawyer came to see his pastor. He was down in the dumps, at his wit's end. He said: "Everything's gone wrong. I have lost confidence in my professional ability... my wife has left me. I can't get along with my children. I'm cut off from my parents and my in-laws. I'm having conflicts with my co-workers. I've been drinking heavily. Everybody has left me... and I don't blame them. I've been bitter and hostile. I've done so many mean and cruel things... and now I have so many problems (and then he literally said this).... "My troubles are Legion!"

He paused and took a deep breath. Then, he leaned forward and said: "To tell you the truth, I think all those problems and troubles are symptoms. My real problem is.... 

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