Aug. 26, 2017

TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

“BUT WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?”

Readings- 1st- Is. 22: 19-23; 2nd- Rom. 11: 33-36; Gospel: Matt. 16: 13-20

Looking at this gospel passage closely, we see Jesus reiterating the divine image of God seen in the Old Testament. God’s revelation to Moses on Mount Horeb takes the form of strong affirmation. It’s a theophany that brings Moses to a closer relationship with God to accomplish the mission of freeing the Israelites from Egypt. The divine name is, “I am” (Ex. 3:14). From the Old Testament, God has always entered a deeper relationship with believers. In such relationships, God reveals himself, becomes so real. God makes his followers realize that what they accomplish is not by their power but by God who is the same at all times. This is what happens in today’s readings.

Having deposed Shebna, the master of the palace, God raises Eliakim to govern the Davidic dynasty. God reveals himself to Eliakim, clothes him with robe, sash, and conveys on him great authority to serve as father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the house of Judah. Eliakim is entrusted with the “keys’ of governance, to open and to shut down. As father, Eliakim will govern and lead the people. As keeper of the keys, Eliakim will regulate entrance into the palace to determine who goes in and who comes out. God says, “I will fix him like a peg in sure spot to be a place of honor for his family” (Is. 22:23). This indicates firmness in his kingship, a responsibility to safeguard those placed in his charge.

The gospel gives us similar picture in the interaction between Jesus and his disciples. At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks his disciples the crucial question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The replies from the disciples show that the people lacked proper understanding of the person of Jesus. They said that some call him Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist or one of the prophets. That means that there is an understanding that Jesus acts like one of the great prophets of Judaism. He continues the anticipation of the inauguration of God’s reign among the people. People have varying expectations of the hopes for who this messiah will be. A basic perception is that he would be a powerful advocate for the Jewish people. Is what the people say about Jesus sufficient or does God expect more from his own? Jesus wants his followers to know him beyond the level of guess work. He is God’s Son, the savior of the world. He is the Incarnate Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And his question points in that trajectory of a deeper relationship with his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter’s response to the question by Jesus is not a coincidence. Jesus addresses Peter as follows, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Matt. 16: 17-18). This is a moment of great revelation. Jesus is indeed the Son of God, the “I am”. By the question, “Who do you say I am?” Jesus intends his disciples to declare his divinity before those who do not know him. Christ goes further to address Peter, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”. Christ establishes his church and confers directly on Peter the visible head of his community.

The Second Vatican Council declares, “To carry out the will of the Father Christ inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth and revealed to us his mystery; by his obedience he brought about our redemption. The Church-- that is, the kingdom of Christ--already present in mystery, grows visibly through the power of God in the world” (Lumen Gentium, no.3). Christ confers authority on Peter. He inaugurates the Church as a means to draw believers into an awareness of God’s saving presence in the world through Christ.

It is important to recognize that we hear within ourselves many times the question from Jesus. Jesus, “But who do you say that I am?” It could be the voice prompting you to do better in what you already are doing. It could be the voice inviting you to do the good that you fail to recognize. It could be the voice reminding you to desist from an evil action that you have become habituated with. It could be the voice urging you to intensify your prayer life and commitment to good works. It is a personal call to become aware of who Jesus is and to enter a deeper relationship with him as Lord. Pope Francis reminds us that it is good to study and know the catechism, but it is not enough to just know and recite it. The pope states that to know Jesus truly, “we need to travel the path that Peter traveled”. Prophet Jeremiah says, “When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the Lord” (Jer. 29:13-14).

Knowing Jesus is an ongoing, daily encounter. We recognize him in our struggles, our pains and suffering. We recognize him in our joys, glories and victories. We recognize him in our relationships. We recognize him in our ambitions and expectations. So, the question, “Who do you say that I am”, means that we know Jesus as the Son of God in the various experiences of life. Once you have this deep relationship with Jesus, knowing and loving him with your heart and soul, you engage him in everything you do. Take your marriage as an example. If Jesus means to you the Son of the living God, you live your marriage life open to him always. You become the best a husband, wife, father or mother could be to your family. You lead them like Peter and like Eliakim as father and guide. You motivate them in the way of God. You commit yourself in a responsible manner to the demands of the married life.

Interestingly today, the communitarian and the personal dimensions of worship are both presented to us. The church is that community bestowed with the powers to bring people into the knowledge of God. The church has been commissioned with the powers to forgive and to bind. The church is responsible for guiding her followers into the love of God through Christ. Within the church also is the personal, individual relationship with God. God invites us to know him personally. While you worship within the church community, it is important to establish a personal relationship with God. Personal prayer, devotion, adoration, family prayer, acts of love, corporal works of mercy, etc, are ways to journey with Jesus and to recognize him personally. He keeps wondering what your personal answer to this question would be as he addresses you by name…, “But who do you say that I am?” Remember, it is not flesh and blood that reveals the answer. It comes through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, is to say, “Jesus, I know you, I believe in you. I will always commit myself to your will because you are God in my life”.