Who am I to you?

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 22:19-23

Thus says the LORD to Shebna, master of the palace: "I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station. On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim's shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut when he shuts, no one shall open. I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family."

Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Matthew 16:13-20

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 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 to 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." Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

The Caesarea Philippi episode in this Sunday’s Gospel reading is an important episode in Jesus’ earthly ministry and is recorded in all the Synoptic Gospels. It serves as a point of departure – it reveals the general belief of the populace about Jesus for all the wonders He has done so far and His true messianic mission behind those deeds. Matthew’s account stands in marked contrast with Mark’s and Luke’s versions (rf Mk 8:27ff, Lk 9:18ff). In Matthew, Peter’s profession of faith is on Jesus’ divinity, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” and he is rewarded with “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 16:16, 19). In Mark and Luke, Peter’s act of faith is an acknowledgement of Jesus’ messiahship, “You are the Messiah”, “The Christ of God” (Mk 8:29, Lk 9:20), but was told not to tell anyone. In either case, Jesus’ question seems to prompt His disciples to think seriously about His true identity – is He divine or human?

In the Gospel, it seems that people are also oscillating this identity question of Jesus. King Herod even thinks that Jesus is John the Baptist who comes back to life (rf Mt 14:1-2, Mk 6:14-16). Even though the disciples have been with Jesus and witnessed His wondrous deeds, they cannot fully comprehend the mystery of His messiahship. Jesus’ predictions about His suffering and death not only horrify but also disappoint the disciples whose expectation is one of liberation and glory. Peter, though he answered correctly under divine impulse, is only able to grasp very little about the true messianic work of Jesus (as seen from his later recoil when Jesus foretells His forthcoming passion rf Mt 16 :21-22).

In retrospect, we may sneer at the disciples’ slowness of understanding. But if today, Jesus comes and asks us the same question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”, what would be our answer? (Mt 16:13). Perhaps like the disciples, we are ready to tell of others’ opinions when asked. It is easy to say “I heard, some said, so and so’s words etc” for there is no worry for the wrong answer and no liability for undesirable consequence. As believers, this question has been properly answered when we received our baptism and assented our Catholic faith the revealed truth of the divinity of Jesus. We continue to give this assent every Sunday at Mass when reciting the Nicene Creed – “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father”. Yet alongside this question comes Jesus’ second question, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:15). This time, Jesus is expecting an answer from our own conviction, a direct one-to-one answer. No more words taken from others, because He says “BUT” and no need for public proclamation because He asks “YOU”.

In effect, our Lord is asking each of us personally, “Who am I to you? Who am I in your life? Whom do you see in me?” There are bound to have some people who do not know and some who do not care. But to us His followers, hopefully our answer is not one which comes only from our knowledge of Him or words from others, but from our heart and from the way we live our lives. Hopefully too, that this identity question of Jesus would call to mind the response of Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”; for indeed, Jesus is God and He is everything to us (Jn 20:28).

Posted: August 23, 2020

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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