The Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 23, 2020
“We Proclaim The Christ!”
Bishop Ariel P. Santos
Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am? Who you say I am?” The famous response of Peter is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!
In the first century Jewish mind, the meaning of Christ is: the anointed one. In Hebrew, the equivalent is Messiah, the Son of David, because He was the hope of Israel who would restore the dignity, the prosperity, the united kingdom of Israel as in David's time. They looked back at David’s reign as the golden age when they had pride, they had prosperity, they had dignity and they were united.
In the one thousand years between King David and Jesus, five empires oppressed Israel - Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. They were crying out, “O come, O come, Christ the Messiah and ransom captive Israel.” The Israelites were tired of being in bondage from their Gentile oppressors. They were looking for a Messiah who would quell their current oppressors, the Romans. They thought that Jesus was the powerful Messiah. If Saul slain one thousand and David his ten thousands, how much more can this Messiah that they were expecting? The prophecies about Him were about being the deliverer of Israel and no empire can overpower Him. They were putting hope in Jesus that He would bring back their glory days.
This might have been in the mind of Peter and probably James, John, Judas and the other zealots among the disciples in overthrowing the Roman Empire. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, but not the imperial Caesar kind. He conquers not by taking the lives of others but by giving His. He confirmed Peter’s confession, but He is not the kind the disciples expected. What Jesus said was, “I am the Messiah. I am the Deliverer of Israel. I am the Christ. I am the hope that you have been waiting for and you know how I will deliver you from all of your enemies, not just the Roman Empire, and I will give My life away.”
They thought that they will fight sword against sword with the Romans, but Jesus taught them the way in what He taught on the Sermon on the Mount. “If you are asked to go one mile, go for another. Give to those who cannot give back to you.” Jesus said that this is the foundation that He will build His church upon. As Christians, this is what we signed up for. Not by power or might, but following Christ who gave His life away. As followers, we give our life away for the sake of others. This is how we defeat the real enemy, which is evil, sin, sickness and death. We defeat this pandemic now by Jesus’ example – His love, His principles – by following Him, denying ourselves and taking up our cross.
Peter did not understand Jesus when He said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. You are Peter and upon this rock I will build My church. The gates of Hades will not overpower you. I will give you the keys of the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be loose in heaven.” Jesus said, “We will go to Jerusalem and they will extort Me, they will torture Me and they will eventually kill Me. Then, I will rise up again after three days.” Peter said, “You are our Messiah. You are our leader. We will have swords and spears and arrows and we will attack Caesar and topple the Roman government. You can’t die for You are our leader.” What did Jesus tell him? Jesus said, “Get behind Me, Satan!” Satan means adversary. “I rebuke you. You are an opposition to the foundation of the church – that is giving of oneself.” This is Jesus!
Jesus is presenting to the disciples man’s way and God’s way. Matthew, in his gospel, shared that they were in Caesaria Philippi where there was a big temple erected in honor of Caesar Augustus. Caesar Augustus was made a god and the people claimed that he was the son of a Greek god named Apollo and had a mother who was a devout woman. He was a son of a god and made incarnate in the womb by a very holy woman. This can be a parallelism to Jesus’ incarnation. Caesar was also called son of a god, lord, savior of world, bringer of peace on earth, and bearer of good news. Jesus stripped all these claims from Caesar and applied it to Himself because He is the true Christ and Lord. These claims of Caesar were on coins, temples, and public monuments.
As they were in the backdrop of this temple of Augustus, Jesus asked them, “You are bombarded everyday with all of this information. Who do you believe is the true Christ? Who do you believe is the true Savior? Who do you believe is the true Lord?” It was also a law that if they meet a Roman individual, they would say, “Caesar is lord.” If they respond with, “Jesus is Lord,” they will be crucified.
All of these images of wealth, power, dread, and prestige were all in favor of Caesar. Yet Jesus is seen as a Galilean peasant, claiming to be the Son of God, the Messiah where there is nowhere to lay His head, and He had no army. Jesus asks, “Who am I to you? “Will you choose this intimidating image of political power and wealth? Who will you believe is the Savior of the world?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ.” This confession was from God and Jesus clarified that He is the kind of Messiah that will bring them life but in God’s way. It is from God, so we live our lives according to what this entails. If Jesus is the Christ, and if He is the kind of Christ that gives His life for the life of the world, this is how we live accordingly as well.
Every generation has its own Caesar. In the Old Testament, the Israelite’s Caesar was Egypt. Out of deceived minds, they said to Moses, “You will bring us to a place that we don’t know. We sat by the pots of meat in Egypt. We ate bread to the full and we had fish for free with cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. Now our appetite is gone. There is nothing here at all to look at except this manna.” Isn’t it that when they were in Egypt, they were discriminated and were not even given straw to make bricks? They went into hard labor and they were scourged. It wasn’t exactly like paradise. They may have had food but they were slaves.
In our lives, we think we will be blessed if we focus on the material world. We don’t understand that we are slaves to our work or to our vices. Things enslave us and Jesus wants to deliver us from all of these that stand in the way of eternal life He wants from us. He is not against us having prosperity and material wealth, but if it puts us in bondage, then it is adversary for us.
I saw an image of a prisoner behind bars and beyond his reach on the right side was a key and on the left side was a loaf of bread. What he was trying to get was the piece of bread. We sometimes want a band-aid relief for our problems like getting the piece of bread. But if we reach for the key, we will be free. Whoever the Son sets free is free indeed! Choose the Way, the Truth and the Life. Do not choose the temporary relief – not the things that we need for temporal life but for the eternal life – which is true freedom, eternal freedom, and abundant life. Do not take the short cut and reject God’s ways. Do not take the band-aid and reject the eternal. Don’t embrace the world’s ways and cast away the kingdom of God.
The temporary solution that the disciples thought was to fight against the Roman government with swords. Jesus showed the Cross against the sword. The Cross is the eternal way to freedom. The sword is temporary and unsure. Had Jesus allowed His disciples to use the swords against the Romans, we won’t have a church today. All will be gone – Romans and disciples alike.
St. Paul’s eyes were opened when he was converted. Ananias came to him and overcame Paul’s evil with good and his eyes were opened. Saul persecuted the Christians and even killed them. Ananias repaid his evil with good, and Paul was enlightened and from then on, he preached the Cross. He preached the foundation of the Church. He preached Jesus giving His life for the life of the world.
One of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer says, “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first He suffered pain, and entered not into glory before He was crucified, mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace...” The Cross is none other than the way of life and peace.
We may be a small band of believers and brothers. We may not have lots of money, and we may not have a clout, be not on the map; but all we need is Jesus and to follow Him and His ways. This is true freedom. The Cross is to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow Jesus Christ. This means to forgive, to save our torturers rather than to kill them. It is easy to be tempted to do this, but we follow Jesus. To follow Jesus is to offer the other cheek, give our coat, go the extra mile, and ask ourselves, “Why not rather be wronged, forgive, bless persecutors, and repay evil with good?”
The Church is built on this. We are the ecclesia, the Church. The Church means the called out. We were the called out of that worldly way into the kingdom way. Let us ask ourselves, “Who do we say Christ is? He is the Lord, the Way, the Truth, and the Life and following Him is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.