TWELFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, C.
FROM THE CROWD TO THE INDIVIDUAL: WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?
The gospel of today has two dimensions: the perception of Jesus by his followers and the self revelation of his mission to the apostles. There is a progression in the revelation which Jesus makes to his apostles of himself. The question, "Who do the crowds say I am?" points to his identity. It came immediately after Jesus had fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish (Lk.9:10-17). The crowds must have different opinions of him after having eaten the food. The passage opens up with Jesus teaching the crowds about the kingdom of heaven. Then he satisfied their physical hunger. What could have registered in the people's heads as they departed- the food or the teaching? Ordinarily, people like food and physical comforts. So, when Jesus asked the disciples who the crowds say he is, he knew the disciples might have heard some whispers about him from the crowds. They might equally be having similar erroneous conception about him.
And the response, "Some say John the Baptist; others Elijah; and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life", implies that the crowds have varying opinions about the person of Jesus. All they know is he is a prophet probably because he not only preached to them but also took care of their physical needs. Let's take a quick look at the cure of the man born blind in John's gospel. After the blind man was cured, the Jews sent for the man to question him about his healing. It became obvious from their conversation that they didn't have proper knowledge of Christ. The question they asked was, "What have you to say about him yourself, now that he opened your eyes? The man answered, 'He is a prophet" (Jn.9:17). The people seemed dissatisfied with the man's answer and questioned him further, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" The man's reply blew them off when he said, "I have told you once and you wouldn't listen. Why do you want to hear it all again? Do you want to become his disciples yourselves?" They were infuriated and made their ignorance about Jesus known at that point. Scripture says, "At this they hurled abuse at him, 'It is you who are his disciple, we are disciples of Moses: we know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this man, we don't know where he comes from" (Jn.9:24-34). From this encounter, there is obviously great controversy about the person and mission of Jesus. The reason is because of the many contradictions that enshrouded his character as well as the Jews' impression of him. For them, he certainly contradicted the Mosaic law and defied the Sabbath.
Meanwhile, Jesus steps down from the crowd to the disciples- the individual. He pushes them harder to know if they have different or better understanding of him more than the people. It was a direct question, "But you, 'who do you say I am?'" This is like a teacher asking students an unexpected question in class. The first reaction would exchange of glances among the apostles in this case- from James to John, Andrew to Philip, Bartholomew to Matthew, Thomas to James (son of Alpheus), Simon to Jude, then Peter to Judas, and back to the Master. Who will bell the cat? Then Peter dared the question, exemplifies his leadership role by responding to the divine puzzle, "You are the Christ of God". Matthew's version gives a more detailed account of the episode where Jesus acknowledged Peter's response as coming from God himself.
Although Peter gives good answer to the question of the person of Jesus, it looked like the response was incomplete. Peter seems to know Jesus' divine origin. How about his mission? That Jesus is the Christ of God is a good response. His mission as the savior is important because it is a mission of suffering. Hence Christ says, "The Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day" (Lk.9:22). That's the mission of the savior, the prophecy of his passion and of our salvation. That is the complete definition of Christ. The prophet Zechariah says in the first reading, "They will look to the one whom they have pierced; they will mourn for him as for an only son, and weep for him as people weep for a first born child". The mission of Christ is thus intrinsically linked to his identity- the Son of God made man for our salvation. It is a mission of suffering and death.
So, who do you say Christ is? This is different from the church's classical definition of Christ or the communal understanding of him. Every person's understanding and interpretation of Christ is determined and informed by the individual's personal life and experience. For instance, a lady came to me recently to share her story of a miracle she received. What happened? According to this lady, her smartphone developed some problems. She took the cellphone for repairs. They informed her that the phone had been infected by virus and was completely damaged. She said she cursed them and cursed the phone because she wasn't ready to loose the phone. The phone shut down completely no matter how she pressed the start button. The lady said the miracle then happened all of a sudden when she got home., She prayed over the phone with her girl friend. She powered the phone again and it came back to life without any problems again. There was no diagnosis again and no repairs. She was sad that she cursed those guys anyway. Her prayers were answered, and so she believed. My question to her was, "What if your phone didn't come back to life?" She couldn't stop laughing. Only God knows what she could have done or believed. But that's her definition and understanding of Jesus, faith and prayer. This lady's case is only about her phone, but we need to think more deeply.
We experience tough times- failures, sicknesses, accidents, disappointments, betrayals, losses, griefs, etc. Does it seem as if Jesus is real at those moments when life hits us so hard? On Friday, the one year anniversary of the nine African Americans shot by a young white man at Emmanuel Church in Charleston was held. One striking thing that happened was the interview granted to a brother of one those killed by the white young man. When asked whether he forgave the killer, he said yes. His statement was that he totally forgave him and believed he would repent and be forgiven by God. He said his hope would be to see this killer in heaven to unite with his sister no longer as blacks or white but as God's children brought together by love. That was inspiring.
My dear friends, let us re-evaluate our understanding of Christ. We have to develop an intimate relationship with him in order to know him well. Christ is the savior, he suffered and died for us. Our worship of God is essentially meant to gain salvation for us, if not it doesn't make meaning. Christ is Christ whether you're healthy or sick. He is Christ in both surplus and scarcity. He is Christ in both success and failure. He is Christ in both richness and poverty. He is Christ who never changes. He desires us to know him better and to work ultimately for the salvation of our souls. Often times, our sufferings help us to better understand the person and mission of Christ.
O Jesus, make me to know you more and more. Make me to love you more and more. Do not let the pressures of the world shift my attention from you. Do not let the pressures from my personal wants and needs misplace my understanding of you. Keep me always focused on your love and mercy. Count me among the redeemed through your Cross. Amen.