Glory to You from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ…Amen
A very fateful event took place 8 years ago last Friday the of September 2001. This occurrence will be debated for years to come. What were the causes; when did such violence begin to fester and grow; what was the seed from which such destruction took root?
Although we can debate the many factors leading to September 11, we can likely all agree on what actually took place that day. There’s no longer any debate about the fact that 8 years ago, men fueled by misguided theology and a violent resentment toward us, set out to destroy and cause hovoc on as many people as possible. These men, in large part, succeeded.
The horrible events of that day are common knowledge. All of us can close our eyes and call up the image of the World Trade Center towers crumbling and falling if we choose to. The names and faces of the perpetrators, heroes, mourners, and victims from that day will be remembered as well for a long, long time.
But try to remember for a moment the time before we knew all that we now know about that fateful day. At 8:45am on that morning in the Northeastern part of the United States, it was an Indian summer day for the record books; cool temperatures, virtually no humidity, and a sky the color of blue that only the most sentimental of painters would ever attempt to portray.
It’s well known that New Yorkers never look up to marvel at the skyscrapers of their city—they leave the gawking for tourists. Those who commute past the Pentagon in Washington on a daily absis barely glance at this stronghold of our national security, keeping their eyes focused on the rush hour traffic in front of and behind them. At 8:45am on September 11, a normal Tuesday morning rush hour was coming to a close; the workday was beginning in earnest. When unusual or unexpected events begin to unfold, the human mind at first rationalizes, ruling out the extraordinary, and searching for ordinary explanations to unexpected sights and sounds.
Our reactions in the days and weeks following were quite ordinary and quite human. All of us felt our “taken for granted” sense of safety—evaporate. Many of us felt a real and enveloping anger. Most of us felt very deep sadness for those whose lives and loved ones were lost. All of these reactions are normal and to be expected.
But to be Christian is to be not just ordinary, not just human. To be “Christian” and to follow Jesus Christ is to be, in fact, extraordinary in many ways. Who do you say that Jesus is??
I really don’t have a special name for Jesus; to me he is the Messiah, a King, a Lord and Master of All. He is not a King in the usual sense. He is a different sort of king. After all, a king is supposed to be distant, wealthy, and powerful. But Jesus as king overturns these expectations.
There is a story told of a man living in London during the Second World War. Every night German planes appeared overhead dropping countless bombs on the city below. Buildings burst into flames, sirens wailed incessantly, entire blocks were reduced to rubble. One day this Londoner was sitting in the wreckage of his home. The walls remained, but the roof was gone.
The man himself was near despair. His home ruined, his city devastated, his country under attack. These thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.
The man opened the door, and was shocked to see a small regal figure. It was the King!! King George VI!! He was touring the war-damaged neighborhood, and had stopped at that particular house. The startled man welcomed the King of England into what was left of his home.
Jesus is a king like that. He comes, of his own accord, to the ruin that I am, and knocks firmly on the door of my heart. He comes not once, but often, always knocking on that door. The Regal King comes in time of crisis, across the devastated landscape. The King Jesus comes to me Sunday by Sunday on the Paten and in the Chalice.
Who do you say that Jesus is? Jesus is king. He is my king and yours. Not distant or wealthy or powerful in the way that ordinary kings are, but still, like other kings, Jesus asks for obedience. He looks for us to be loyal. He proposes that we do our duty. That duty finds expression in phrases from the Catechism. I am to work, pray and give for the spread of his kingdom. Work, Pray, and Give.
WWJD: You have seen them everywhere—bracelets, key rings, and just about anything that can be marked with the logo, WWJD. “What Would Jesus Do?” I even have a charm on my bracelet.
It’s daunting to wear one of those bracelets because in most situations, how would we be qualified to answer that question? How could we ever presume to know what Jesus would think or do in today’s world? Jesus was always doing the most surprising things! He was arguably one of the most unpredictable persons in all of recorded history.
If the Gospels are any indication, it appears that when he was pressed by others for advice on what to do, he would: (a) ask them another question, (b) tell a story or a parable, or (c) say that only God knows.
A couple years ago, when the WWJD bracelet rage really started to catch on, people came up with some alternative bracelets.
WWDD for football coaches: “What Would Ditka do?” Or DYWFWT for McDonald’s employees: “Do You Want Fries With That?” For elderly Christians there’s WDIPOTB: “Why Did I Put On This Bracelet?” And for today’s teens, simply W: “Whatever” or “Whatsup”—take your pick.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes his own suggestion for a bracelet slogan—WDYSTIA: “Who Do You Say That I Am?”
We promise in our Baptism that we will be the people who strive for justice and peace for all people, not some people, not a lot of people, but all people, and respect the dignity of every, not some, not a few, not the ones like us, but every human being.
WDYSTIA? Who Do You Say That I Am? Jesus wants to have that conversation with each of us, and is not overly insistent that we all have the same answer.
His only concern is that, whoever we say Jesus is, he can be seen in the way we pick up our crosses and follow him. The people he chooses to spend time with are not the people we always find ourselves drawn to be with on a day to day basis: tax collectors, sinners, the lame, the sick, prostitutes, and so on. That is the real challenge in our Baptismal promise: to follow him.
What Jesus did, in any given situation, was always surprising and unpredictable. Which is why it’s hard to presume to know what he would do today or tomorrow, and why it’s hard to adopt the kind of pride it would take to wear a WWJD bracelet.
It might be easier, however, to wear one that says WDYSTIA, “Who Do You Say That I Am?” That way we can continue to have conversation with him as we strive to follow him in his mission to bring Jubilee, Justice, and Peace to all people while respecting the dignity of every human being. AMEN