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Jesus said to the Jews: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” So the Jews said to him, “Now we are sure that you are possessed. Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? Or the prophets, who died? Who do you make yourself out to be?”
There was much debate within the walls of the Vatican regarding Maximilian Kolbe’s canonization. No one doubted his holiness. Rather, the question being debated centered on whether or not he died a martyr’s death or a tragic death. Pope John Paul II entered the debate and put an end to the debate by reminding members of the Congregation in charge of such matters of a simple question that was asked that fateful day. After Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take the place of a condemned man, the Nazi concentration camp commander asked him, “Who are you?” Maximilian replied, “I am a Catholic priest.” Maximilian was killed out of hatred of the Catholic faith.
“Who are you?” I consider it amazing that St. Maximilian Kolbe did not answer the evil commander’s question by just stating his name. If he had, then God’s glory may have shined in a completely different way that day and for all eternity. But we know the way Maximilian answered the question because the man he saved (Francis Gajowniczek) survived that day; that concentration camp; and the remaining months of that devastating war. In fact, he even survived Maximilian’s canonization ceremony!
“Who are you?” We are not used to people asking a direct question like this one. Typically, we go around the bush with them, asking a few questions like, “What’s your name?”, “Where did you grow up?” or “Where did you go to school?” etc…. It is our cowardly attempt to gather information so that we can define who someone is. So, I end up defining the person rather than allowing them to define themselves! If you are someone like me, you often find yourself in the embarrassing situation of not even remembering an acquaintances name, and knowing that you could not possibly ask it again, you find yourself spending more energy trying to remember their name than having a conversation with them!
“Who are you?” The Lord spent very little time with Pharisees and scribes. There was a reason for it. He was getting bored with their one question. Finally, at the right moment, the Lord told them straight out: “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.” It was a decisive moment. They could have either bent their knees and did him homage or they could have bent their knees and picked up stones. They did the later.
“Who are you?” A person is not defined by words alone, but it can help. Christ’s words are truly eternal, not so much in the sense that they live on forever, but in the sense that they remain true forever. That’s incredible! Think for just a moment on how many books, written in the 18th or 19th century, that still capture our attention today. There are very few. They just don’t seem to talk to me. Christ’s words - his parables and his lessons especially – talk to me. The Word is living. They touch man’s heart and mind regardless of time or era. The Word lives yesterday, today and forever. The Pharisees should have picked up on this, but they didn’t, for while they were asking Christ one question, they were spending all their energy preparing the next. They could have listened to His word, but they preferred to hear in order to refute.
A person is not defined by what they do, but it can help. Christ’s life continues to be a model for living. He loved more than anyone else. He forgave more than anyone else. He gave more than anyone else. The Pharisees and scribes should have picked up on this, but they didn’t. They were present in order to accuse. They were focused so as to abuse. But Christ’s actions speak as loud as his words. He stands the test of time. His miracles back then are considered miracles today! Pagan miracles have long ago been refuted by science, but Christ’s miracles remain a mystery even to this day. And I consider some of His greatest miracles to be those that are down to earth. For example, He touched the lepers without gloves; he forgave his own executioners; he loved his enemies and cursed not his foes; he turned the other cheek; he wept for Judas; he ate with the refuse of life. The Lord judged not; he condemned not. The Pharisees and scribes should have picked up on this, but they did not. They witnessed it all so that they could twist it all.
What Christ did remains surprising; what the Pharisees did remains all too familiar. What Christ did is out of this world; what the Pharisees did remains well entrenched in our world. They could have picked up on it, but instead they picked up stones.
I have no doubt in my mind that Christ is the Son of God.
“Who are you?” During this Lent, the Lord has called me to ask this question to myself and to make the answer obvious to all who come in contact with me. For all of us, to be more like Him means to be like Him yesterday, and even better today and forever.
This is a question that should be asked only once in a lifetime and answered throughout our lifetime.