In 1925, the New York World publication celebrated the birthday of Abraham Lincoln with a cartoon that has become something of a classic. Two Kentucky farmers are pictured talking over a picket fence. One asks, “Anything new happen lately?” The other responds, “Nothing much. A new baby was born over at Tom Lincoln’s place, but nothing much ever happens around here.”
Can you imagine the same thing happening in Bethlehem on the night that Jesus was born? Can you picture some people standing just outside the inn? “Anything new happen around here?” “Nothing much, just a baby born down in the stable, but nothing much ever happens around here.”
The point of the cartoon in the New York World was clear: the two men had no idea how much Lincoln would impact history. But what makes Jesus different from Lincoln or other great historical figures? This is the question that Christ himself asks the Apostles in this Sunday’s Gospel: “Who do you say that I am?” This is the central question that every committed Christian must answer, for the answer gives shape to our very existence.
Throughout the centuries, numerous people have had a tremendous impact on history and on our own lives. I can think of many people — Christian and non-Christian alike — that have impacted my life. But as great as these people were or are, they only have the power to influence us. Their lives or their words, the concepts or techniques that they teach, may certainly impact us, but they do not possess within their very person the power to change and transform us. And they certainly do not possess, within their very person, the power to make us happy.
St. Peter’s answer reveals why Jesus is different. “You are the Christ,” Peter says to Jesus. Jesus Christ is different from other great historical figures because he is a divine person; he is God in human flesh. That means that he is eternally perfect, having no sin in him. Therefore he possesses within himself not only the power to have an impact on us but also the power to change us interiorly and to make us happy.
This transformation in Christ is brought about in us by the power of grace, particularly the grace communicated to us in the sacraments and daily prayer. It is grace, a share in God’s very life, which keeps us united to him.
It is vital that you and I answer Jesus’ question. Do we believe he is the Christ, the Son of God who gave his life to save us? If so, then he deserves nothing less than the gift of our very lives. If we believe, we must take up our cross and follow him; we must lose our lives for the sake of the gospel so that ultimately we will gain our lives for eternity.