Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898. He was a British author and theologian. He held positions of English Literature both at Oxford and Cambridge Universities … He is best known for his famous work: The Chronicles of Narnia. And perhaps one of my favorite authors of all time … Lewis, however, was not Catholic, in fact, he was not always a Christian. He spent much of his life as an atheist. Yet, his friendship with colleagues – such as JRR Tolkien – led him to his becoming a devout member of the Anglican Church … holding even to some Catholic doctrine. Lewis wrote one of the best and shortest books on apologetics: Mere Christianity … in it he describes what has come to be known as the great “trilemma” … that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.
It is a very interesting question … apart from Jesus knowing Himself it’s a question that makes you and I think – do we really know who Jesus is? Is Jesus God? Is He a wise, moral teacher? … In other words – imagine you are standing in the shoes of St. Peter at this moment and the question is posed to you … who do you say that I am? And the answer to this question is significant because how we answer determines how we live our lives of faith … who do you say that I am? This brings us back to the “trilemma” – was Jesus a liar, lunatic, or Lord? And how we come to understand who Jesus is then forces us to make a decision – to accept or reject Him… Lewis wrote:
“A man who was 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 a level with the 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. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Liar: If Jesus knew He was not God, then He was lying. But if he was a liar, then He also was a hypocrite, as He told others to be honest, whatever the cost. That would make Jesus unspeakably evil. And if Jesus knew He was lying, then He was a fool, as His claims led to His crucifixion.
Lunatic: So if Jesus wasn’t a liar, is it feasible that He mistakenly thought He was God? After all, one might be both sincere — but also sincerely wrong. Yet the notion that Jesus was self-deceived or delusional is not compatible with the impression He left on history nor with the testimony of His character in the Gospels – full of wisdom and sound mind, passionate and compassionate, creative and authoritative.
Lord: This leaves one option … Jesus is Lord – as St. Peter so boldly proclaims in today’s Gospel. He must be who He claims to be … the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. The Resurrection of Jesus is the mark of His divinity … and the very fact that the Church He founded 2,000 years ago still exists today… the fact that men and women through history – up to this present moment – have been put to death in His name… proves to us this man is in fact our Lord and God.
Now the question is posed to us, where do we fall in this line of history – do we accept Him or reject Him? Our lives, our eternal destination depends on how we answer this question … In this day and age it is difficult to make the same proclamation as St. Peter – many people are so very hostile to religion … many Christians lack boldness and at least a basic knowledge of our faith … Yet, we do not need a theology degree to make the same claim … we need to KNOW Him – this is why St. Peter can make such a claim … He KNOWS Jesus… and we have to know Him as well. In prayer and study, in the Gospels, by spending time in His presence, by going to confession and receiving Holy Communion … with the humility of mind and heart that is open to getting to know this Jesus … and then can we too, even in the face of such adversity as we see in the world today, make the same proclamation – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”