21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (A)
Sunday 27 August 2023
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets’. He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’”.
We find ourselves at the foot of Mount Herman on the outskirts of Caesarea Philippi. The Master asks His disciples about other people’s opinion of Him. After this, then, He asks them for theirs.
In all the Synoptic Gospels, the disciples’ answer Jesus’ question is the same: John the Baptist or Elijah. The link between these two prophets derives from the oracle of the prophet Malachi, which talks of Elijah, a messenger sent by God to prepare “the day of the Lord”.
Matthew and Mark both record the question as “who do people say that [I am]?”, while Luke uses the term ‘the crowds’. Probably this refers to the crowd of Pharisees who believed in resurrection. For this reason in Luke we read the answer, “one of the ancient prophets [who has] arisen” (Luke 9:19). Instead, Matthew and Mark don’t speak of resurrection, which makes us think of the Sadducees , a restricted class who denied the resurrection of the dead. We find an addition in Matthew too: as well as John the Baptist and Elijah, the people think that Jesus could be the prophet Jeremiah. In the context of his time, he was publicly viewed as a pacifist, having preached on surrendering to the Babylonians. Likewise, Jesus didn’t stand up against the Roman occupation.
All this says that the person of Jesus was understood depending on distinct categories linked to the culture and tradition of that time. Peter is the only one who is able to break out of this categorising. He responds with a dogmatic tone: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”.
What if God was to ask you the same question today: who am I for you? What does the word CHRIST or MESSIAH mean for you? A judge… a good man… a pitiful man unjustly murdered… someone who takes care of others but not of you… a friend? How would you answer the question?
In order to discover and know the character and the authentic face of our God, the only star we should follow is His Word. By reading the Bible every day we uncover who He is, what He has done, and what He does for us. As St Jerome says, in his commentary on the Book of Isaiah: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”.