Many years ago, a relative whom I had only once met went through a time of great difficulty. The situation I was in at that time was such that I had the opportunity to reach out with some concrete help.
It was a life-changing time for me as the events that unfolded led to meeting the man who became my husband, and ultimately to the life I now have.
But that is not the story I want to tell today. Rather, it is to think about how we define people, how who someone is to us shapes our heart's response and thus directs our action.
As I said, there had only been one encounter years before the day I reached out, and so it was not an existing relationship that prompted my response. Rather, it was the definition of who this person was. He was one of my people.
Think of the difference between first meeting someone who you know to be your new boss, versus first meeting your grandfather who has always lived far, far away.
'O God, you are my God, my soul thirsts for you; as in a dry, weary land where there is no water.'
Very different feelings come forward; with the boss we want to make a good impression, know we need to follow the rules, know that how things develop from here will determine whether we remain an employee.
Very different with the grandfather. . . . He will be our grandfather no matter what happens. He already loves us, because we are one of his people.
So now let us turn to the questions that Jesus asks the disciples in the Gospel reading from this Sunday, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" and, "Who do you say that I am?" These are important questions, because how we define Jesus determines how we approach him (or don't), how we feel about him, how much he matters.
If he is simply the one who started Christianity and waits in heaven for us, I can think about that later. If he is the one who is keeping track of how well I'm following the rules, I want to keep a few things out of his eyesight.
If he is my brother (with my experience of having a good brother) then I matter and he is to be trusted.
If he is the lover of my soul, then I must know him more and fall deeply into the embrace of his eternal love. There must be nothing else that can matter more.
I have better things to do if the boss wants me to put in some extra time. But if the lover of my soul is waiting for me, I cannot help but be enticed.
Peter had his answer, "You are the Christ of God." Our answer will change over the years, as we grow in our faith, as life changes influence us.
But if our answer does not lead us to the place where we deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him, then perhaps it is time to rethink our answer.
(Kathleen Giffin firstname.lastname@example.org)