24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Purity of Confession
Jesus said, “Who do you say I am?” Probably, this is the most important question that a Christian would be asked. In the gospel, Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” What was the understanding of Christ in the Jewish mind? Christ definitely was not a surname, like the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christ. Christ means the anointed One. Who was anointed before the kings? The kings were anointed by prophets and they used oils for the ceremony. The anointed one was the king and among the kings of Israel, David was regarded as the greatest king that they ever had. Under him was his son, Solomon, and the twelve tribes of Israel, and they were united in one kingdom. But after one thousand years between, Israel was conquered by several superpowers - the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Israel was under oppression for one thousand years, and of course, they would want a Messiah, a Christ.
Jesus asked the Pharisees, “What do you think of the Christ? Whose Son is He?” Jesus was the Son of David and what the people were looking for was a David-like warrior who would deliver by military might from their oppressors. They were longing for David’s golden age when the twelve tribes were one united kingdom. They were looking for something that would quell the Romans and give them freedom, peace, prosperity, and restore back their pride and their dignity as a nation, as a chosen people of God.
This is what may have been in Peter’s mind when he said, “Jesus, You are the Christ. You are our deliverer. You are our Messiah.” Indeed, Jesus was and He affirmed it. He was saying, “That came from My Father, God Himself, but your idea of Messiah may not be the same as what the Messiah really should be as Israel needs Him.” They were looking for somebody who would drive through the Roman Palace and raise the armies of Rome. Jesus made it clear that He was the kind of Messiah that Peter was thinking and I am sure, James, John and Judas as well.
Jesus said, “I am the Messiah, I am Christ, but this is how I would deliver Israel. First, I will be handed over to the sinners and they will spit upon Me. They will pull My beard, strike Me on the cheek, crucify Me, and they will kill Me. Then, I will forgive them, and on the third day, I will rise again.” It would be natural for Peter to say, “Of course, these things will not happen to You. You are our Deliverer. Nobody will kill You. You will kill like David did. You will not be killed.” After Peter said theses things, Jesus rebukes him back because he did not understand. Jesus tells Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan.” Satan meant adversary. Peter was oppose to the plan of God and he may not understand it, but it was what should happen to Jesus. Peter asks, “What do You mean that You will get killed and that You will suffer?” Jesus says, “It is the way of the cross; the way of God.”
Giving you a background of the setting of the gospel, they were in a place called Caesarea Philippi where there was a temple of Caesar Augustus who was the Emperor when Jesus was born. When he died, Tiberius Caesar, the stepson of Caesar Augustus, took his place. Tiberius made a temple in honor of Caesar Augustus. It was the largest building at that time, and Jesus and His disciples were there by the temple. The big statue of Caesar Augustus was there and there was a coin where his face was on one side and on the other side was the temple. These showed the authority and the popularity of Caesar Augustus.
There were claims made on behalf of Caesar Augustus. It was said that Caesar Augustus was the son of Apollo, who was a god, and Apollo impregnated Caesar’s Mother, Atia, who was said to have been the most revered matron in history. She was exceptionally moral and religious, and she was chosen by Apollo to bear his son, Caesar Augustus. One of the titles of Caesar Augustus was the son of God. In German, Caesar meant lord, and he also claimed to have been the savior of the world. Son of God, lord, savior of the world, bringer of peace and bearer of good news – these claims were on coins, on public monuments and temples. Tiberius had also a coin and his face was on one side where it was written “Tiberius Caesar” the August son of the divine Augustus, the high priest.
We see a display of wealth, power, dread, prestige, and a clout. Against this background of the temple and all it symbolizes, Jesus Christ, appeared to be a bastard son of peasant parents, homeless, nowhere to lay His head. He had no army, no influence, and no power. This Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do you say I am?" He was saying this in the temple where there was the statue of Caesar Augustus who was claimed to be the son of God, the deliverer, the bringer of peace and good news. Peter says, “It is not him (referring to the statue); You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The question of Jesus is, actually, “Who really is the divinely conceived? Who really is Lord? Who really is the Savior of the world and the bringer of peace and good news? Who really is God’s anointed one? Who really is it that will deliver you all from your real bondages and oppression? Caesar or Jesus?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Indeed, it was from God. Indeed, our confession is from God (as it is said in the Creed), but it is one thing to confess and it is another thing to bet our life on it. James said that a hearer is not necessarily the accomplished one. It is the doer of the will of God that really gives a good witness.
I just wonder – for the people who know us individually and as a Church, for the people around our Church, our neighborhood - what is our response to the questions, “What are they being taught? What kind of Christians are they?” Jesus did not ask, “What did people say about My teaching?” He asked, “Who do they say that I am? My essence? My nature? What I live out or display?”
As our theme is “Purity of Confession”, what will make our confession pure is how and what we back it with our own lives. What kind of people are the Cathedral of the King members? People may read the teachings at our website, watch our Facebook live and say that we have a good praise and worship. Are these what makes us? Who do people say that we are? It is not, “What do people say about our music or our teaching?” The purity of our confession will depend on who we manifest, the nature that is in us.
The statement of Peter, “You are the Christ,” was really provocative, seditious, subversive, and rebellious because the people said the Caesar was lord. Augustus is lord; Tiberius is lord. He is the son of God, the deliverer and the messiah, and if people counter that to say, “No, Jesus is the Messiah,” then that meant they could be crucified. Our statement of “Jesus, You are the Christ,” should mean that we are ready to deny ourselves, carry our crosses and follow Him, and even be crucified for it.
We need to realize the extent of crucifixion. In the words of historians and theologians, crucifixion was specifically designed to be the ultimate insult to personal dignity, the last word in humiliation and dehumanizing treatment. The whole point was degradation. The mere mention of crucifixion was taboo in polite Roman circles. It was the lowest form of capital punishment, reserved only for slaves and rebels. It is the most cruel and disgusting penalty. It was terrifying, blood-curdling, hair-raising, and nightmarish. It was no-brainer for citizens at that time. Why would they choose Jesus and the cross over the security and the peace that Caesar brings? If one denounces Caesar and say that Jesus is Lord, it meant not just being killed, but crucified, and people would dread this.
Today, do we look to the Caesars around us and do we put our trust in them? Do we put our trust in education? Do we see education, career, dollar, migration, overseas employment as something that will save us and bring fortune to our lives? I am not saying that these things are wrong, but where do we put our trust? We do not replace Jesus in our hearts and in our minds as the true hope that we have in our lives. Do we look to wealth and the glitter of gold? Many times, to put Jesus above them seems unnecessary and painful, but can’t we look to Jesus and say, “Jesus is my hope wherever I am. My hope is in You, Lord. My strength is in You as my life is in You.” Who or what really brings peace, joy and security to us? Where is our hope? Have we fashioned idols and Caesars in our lives and replaced Jesus with them and do we look to them as our means?
Jesus is the real Christ and Savior. This can’t be changed, but is He Christ and Savior to us? Peter’s confession was true that Jesus is indeed the Christ, but is He Christ to us, the Deliver and the Messiah in our lives? How can Jesus be these to us? The only way He can be is if we deny ourselves, take up our cross, renounce the adversary, and we follow Him.
The Cross is foolishness or weakness to the world, but to us who are being saved, who are being delivered, and being given peace and salvation, it is the wisdom and the power of God. Some atheists would say that only the weak call on Christ and that forgiveness is only for the cowards because they avoid conflict. St. Paul said that the foolishness of God is wiser than man, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. The Cross is the perfect expression of God’s love and is His weapon versus the enemies of life and peace.
When we bow before the Cross, it is not just for rubrics, but that it should mean that we submit to what it represents. The Cross represents offering our other cheek, walking the extra mile for another, forgiving our enemies, loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, taking the heat for someone, and laying our life down for others. Priests wear black to say that they carry the sin and the burden of others, and they absolve the people of these. Jesus was sinless, but He absorbed the sins of the world upon Himself. This is what the Cross means and what it stands for. When we bow before the Cross, we submit to this message and principle.
The grace of God would give us courage to see beyond the of bearing the Cross. It is not easy, but the grace of God would help us see beyond the cost, the pain, so that we can endure and see the joy, the peace, and the true freedom that bearing our cross would bring. Hebrews says that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy set before Him. My favorite prayer goes, “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 the way. The Cross is not defeat, but victory. When Jesus was crucified on Good Friday, did any one of His disciples jump up and down to signify victory? No, because they thought they were defeated because their Deliverer was crucified. Jesus crucified is the real triumph! It may take time to realize like the disciples, but the Cross is the way. Unless we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus, our confession will not be pure and He will not be Christ to us.
As a Church, we may be a small band of believers. We don’t have lots of money, not much influence, no clout, and we are not on the map as to the who’s who in the Churches of Metro Manila. All we need is Jesus and to follow His way. This would bring us true freedom and peace. Forget our own ideas of grandeur and victory and peace. Follow the Cross and see what Jesus has in store for us. It is a true joy, true peace, true freedom and true deliverance. As the Messiah, Jesus would probably be saying to His disciples, “I know that it is easy to get angry at our enemies and hate them,” but like James said in our reading today, the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. It is the Cross, which accomplishes. It is following Jesus which accomplishes.
“Who do you say Jesus is?” He is the Christ. He would be Christ to us by following Him, denying ourselves, and taking our cross. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life, and the victory. Following Him is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.