Aug. 23, 2020

TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2020

TOO HUMAN TO BE GOD’S SON

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

 

The mystery of the incarnation of Christ remains God’s greatest gift to humanity. Yet, it has been a great source of confusion and controversy because the concept of being God and being man at the same time eludes human understanding. How could Jesus be God and still be man? The Fathers of the Church defended this truth about Jesus, one Person (the Son) in two natures (divine and human) without any confusion or contradiction. The Councils of Nicaea, Ephesus, and Chalcedon established the notions of substance, Person, and nature of Christ as God’s Son made flesh against the heresies of the time. The Council of Constantinople 111 (681) also taught that Jesus possessed both the human and the divine nature with both operating in harmony. Why did Jesus ask the disciples the question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Could Jesus have equally been unsure of who he was? The answer is that Jesus wanted to use the opportunity to communicate to the apostles the meaning of his mission, to establish among them a church that will trace back to him after his ascension to the Father.

The disciples’ confusion is no surprise, of course. Jesus is like any other human. Although he performed several miracles beyond the prophets of the Jewish era, those could have been attributed to his special connection with God. For the Jews, a miracle is possible for one on a higher spiritual status like Jesus. Hence, the answer, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” These are men who maintained high spiritual standards, men who could do spectacular things, who could speak languages that fall within the realm of the gods. So, it’s no problem to be human with supernatural powers. After Jesus cured the blind man of John’s gospel, he asked the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man’s answer was, “Sir, tell me who he is so that I may believe in him” (Jn. 9:35-36). At that point, Jesus declared to him that He was the one speaking to him, the one who made him gain his sight. Then, the man replied, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshipped Christ.

The disciples of Jesus gave answers based on their understanding and on the opinion of the people with whom they mingled, and correctly so, within their human limitations. He preached and prophesied like the prophets. He cured the sick like men of God. He cast out demons like specially gifted spiritualists. He raised the dead as Elijah did. He condemned injustice and taught with authority like social revolutionists. He challenged the rulers like radical politicians. And like every other human being, they had seen him angry at the tax collectors and those who transacted in the temple, so he was upright. He ate with those described as outcasts of the society, so he could be the savior. He was tempted in the desert but didn’t fall, so he was a holy man. Jesus was subject to the psychological trauma of human nature. The people saw all these and as the Hebrews writer puts it, “one who has been similarly tested in every way, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus was too human to be God’s Son.

Then came the big one, “who do you say that I am?” Peter’s response came in an extraordinary fashion, he did not figure it out on his own. The response, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” was not human. It was a revelation from God. Peter needed such knowledge for several reasons: divine wisdom to be the rock, the pillar of God’s Church. He needed divine approval to fight the evils of the underworld. He needed divine insight to be the shepherd after the mind of Christ. Peter needed a special grounding to be able to carry out the mission entrusted to him, the reason why Christ declared, “You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). This wisdom from above qualified Peter to hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven, the keys to bind and loose. Christ steps up his divine role and mission here, He knew that the netherworld would fight against His church. He prepared Peter for the task of teaching, sanctifying, and shepherding. He knew that the world would need forgiveness for their sins. He knew that humanity would need His Church for cleansing and mercy. It was important that the man who would hand over the keys to the successors of the vicar of Christ in the world understood the mysteries of the incarnation, the pains, and sufferings of the Church in a way that no other disciple could comprehend. Hence, Christ commissioned Peter for the great mission of leading His Church.

Jesus’ encounter with his disciples in today’s gospel posits questions about our faith in Christ and in His Church. Is Jesus too human to be God for us? Who do we say that Jesus is? Has the Church become another secular institution that we attend on Sundays? Do we still find Christ in his Church? Fr. James Tolhurst of FAITH Magazine wrote in 2010, “In a sense, we are blinded by our culture, our background, our prejudices, and especially our sins.” Aren’t we entangled in our cultural, political, and socioeconomic biases and prejudices today that we fail to know Christ? It’s hard to know Christ in sin, hard to recognize him if you fail to enter a relationship with him in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The disciples followed him for years, still thought he was Elijah, John the Baptist, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. The same can happen to any of us -deacon, priest, bishop- baptized, confirmed, wedded, a regular church attendant, still not know Christ.

Most of us view Jesus as one who can help in times of trouble. Do you ask him for help when we feel sick, when finances are bad, when children’s lives become nasty when health condition gets messed up? Do you call on him only as a superior help when you exhaust your efforts to fix pieces of stuff? Are you blinded by cultural biases and prejudices? Has sin blurred your image of Christ?   Saint Paul implicated the Corinthian community regarding their way of life, “That is why many of you are weak and ill and a good number have died” (1 Cor. 11:12). He attributed their problems to failure to accept Christ in the Blessed Eucharist. We need to see the Eucharist as the great encounter with divine revelation and relationship with God. If we authentically embrace this relationship, we understand that Jesus is the Son of God, the Bread of Life broken and sacrificed for our salvation, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

It is important that we teach our children who Jesus is, today. Jesus is not just a superstar. He is not just a celebrity. Jesus is not just a help/support line we call during life’s crisis. He is not one who fixes our messes. If we don’t teach this, we won’t be able to correct negative behaviors and attitudes against the Church. The notion today is like this, “If Jesus doesn’t fix me, I protest.” He’s got to fix my drinking habits. He’s got to fix my porn addiction. He’s got to fix my anger issues. He’s got to fix my academic problems. He’s got to fix my plan to become a girl and not a boy. He’s got to fix my desire to marry a fellow man and not a woman. He’s got to fix politics to go as I want, or he stops being God. That’s not correct. Jesus might appear too human to be God, but He is God. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. We must be in an intimate relationship with the Eucharist. Only then, not by flesh and blood, can we truly know, love, and serve Him.