HOMILY FOR 21ST SUNDAY OF THE ORDINARY TIME AUGUST 27TH, 2017
I find it a little bit difficult to understand why our Lord chose to use this method of question and answer to reveal to his disciples his true identity, instead of just telling them bluntly. Try as hard as I wished, I could not come up with any answer. As the second reading said, “who could ever know the mind of the Lord?”
Our Lord started by asking, “who do people say that the Son of Man is?”, and the disciples (not just Peter alone) told him that people thought of him as:
First, John the Baptist, who was murdered by Herod. John was such a powerful presence that the people would not be surprised to see him again. Indeed, Herod thought that Jesus might be a resuscitated John the Baptist.
Second, the prophet Elijah, the worker of miracles, who was expected to reappear “before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes”.
Third, the prophet Jeremiah, who had opposed the religious leaders in Jerusalem and had predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
Fourth, or one of the other prophets.
So, it is very clear that people thought well of Jesus and had considered him as a prophet. But Jesus is more than a prophet. He is the Anointed One of God.
It is interesting to know the people’s opinions of Jesus, but Jesus’ first question simply prepared the disciples for the second and all-important question.
Having listened to their feedback, he now asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
When Jesus said, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ “You” is both emphatic and plural. He addressed this question to the disciples at large rather than to Peter only. He was telling them that people were free to believe whatever they wanted about him, but what mattered most was what the disciples themselves believed.
We should not be surprised at this. He had been carefully preparing these disciples to carry on his work. They had heard his teachings and witnessed his miracles. What they thought of him was therefore critical. It would have been catastrophic if up till that very moment none of them had any inkling about his identity.
In the same way, the same question is meant for us and how each and every one of us answers it now is also critical. We cannot afford to be uncertain because uncertainty equals to unbelief. We cannot afford to be indifferent because indifference equals to rejection.
To be a Christian means to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Anything else is less than Christian.
In Israel people were anointed with oil to set them apart for a special role, such as prophet, priest, or king. Anointing indicated not only that God had chosen this person, but also that God would give the person the ability to fulfil the role.
But when Peter said, “You are the Christ,” he was going one step further. He was taking a giant step. Israel had, for many years, been looking for God to send a saviour—someone like King David of old, who had led Israel to greatness. Israel was looking for God to send a Messiah to do that again—to make Israel great again and to save Israel from oppressors such as Rome.
By his response, Peter was simply saying, “You are the saviour for whom we have waited for centuries. You are the one sent from God to save us.”
This kind of statement made by Peter demands a lot of commitment. If he truly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, he would have to give his all to the service of Jesus. And that he did. That is also true for us. If we truly believe he is the Christ, we have to commit our lives to him.
But that is not all. There is also another lesson to be learnt from today’s gospel. And that is the fact that Jesus wants us to be like him. If he is the Anointed Son of God, he has come to reveal to us that we are equally the anointed children of God. If he is the beloved Son of God, he has equally come to reveal to us that we are the beloved children of God.
My brothers and sisters gathered here with me today, this is the great challenge of the spiritual life. Let us ask God for the grace to claim the identity of Jesus for ourselves and to say that we are the living Christ today.