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21st Sunday: WHO ARE YOU, LORD?

The caption for this homily is taken from one of the stories about St. Francis of Assisi which relates how a brother watched the saint in prayer and heard him pray the words, “Who are you, Lord my God, and who am I?” This seems like what we read in the gospel of today where Jesus takes his disciples on a task, to identify the depth of their understanding of his identity. He also takes them on a self-awareness test, "Who am I?".

Perhaps, the question from Jesus to his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" has become an old story to our ears. But how does the interaction in this passage resonate with our time? The context of the encounter, which is Caesarea Philippi, reinforces Jesus’ missionary plan to move beyond Jerusalem into the Gentile region. When the disciples reply, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets," they echo the impressions of the people. Jesus is not satisfied with such a stance. Those impressions are important, but what do they mean to them as individuals, especially as potential teachers and preachers? Why rely on others’ opinions about Jesus? Hence, Jesus challenges the disciples to be convinced, “But who do you say that I am?” This unique understanding of his identity is huge. Also, Peter’s profession will form the fulcrum of the new missionary mandate. If they know him, they can correctly teach others.

In an earlier passage (Matt. 14:22-33), the disciples experience Jesus walking on the sea. In that encounter, Peter demands to walk with the Lord and makes an okay attempt. Jesus stretches out to rescue Peter. He also calms the fear of the other disciples who think he is a ghost. During this meeting, there is another profession of faith. The passage reads, “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matt. 14:33). It is important to consider what is different in this response from Peter’s profession as presented in Matthew 16 in today’s gospel.

Let’s call this the Boat experience while Peter’s is the Casarea Philippi experience. Everything happening in the Boat experience seems reactionary because it forms a chain of emotional responses by the followers of Jesus. The disciples react when they see Jesus walking on the sea. Peter reacts after being saved from sinking. The people in the boat react to the quieting of the wind and the storms. They do homage to Jesus because he saves them. They acclaim, "Truly, you are the Son of God.”

However, the Caesarea Philippi encounter is proactive and intentional. Jesus pauses the movement and activities to know what the disciples think about him. He stops to make sure that their understanding of him is not warranted by situation or circumstance. He wants to make sure that they truly know him. He is not just that guy who steps in to calm the storms and the winds or who feeds the hungry and the poor. He wants to confirm that they recognize him and can convincingly communicate him to the world. Peter’s declaration is therefore not an emotional reaction. The master does not just save him when he is sinking. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah who has come to redeem the world. In turn, Jesus declares Peter to be the rock, the head of his church.

In the prayer of Francis above, the saint responds to the question about God and how that would help to define his own identity as a Christian. Let’s imagine Jesus confronting us as individuals and as Church today with the question, “Who do you say the Son of man is?” How does our experience of the world help us to define the identity of Jesus? What does today’s world say to us about Jesus? Has Jesus become the image presented to us by culture or the politics of our time? Is Jesus defined by our experiences of successes and failures? Who defines Jesus for you?

The truth is that Jesus would want us to get deeper and personal, to establish that we know him beyond what the culture shows us. When we encounter him in the sacraments, in charitable acts, in humble service, and in being ministers of love and justice to others, we must recognize that we are encountering the Son of the Living God. Christ is the Son of God who has come to save us.

Like Saint Francis, let's go deeper to ask, “Who am I, Lord?” Who are we as Catholics in today’s world? Who are we as Christians? If we know who the Lord is, then knowing his intention and will for us can be easier. Those keys given to Peter at Caesarea Philippi remain with the Church. The powers to bind and to loose never change. They are as given by the same Lord, Christ the Son of the Living God. He is the Christ who invites us to mercy and forgiveness. He is the Lord who heals our brokenness. He is the Lord who feeds us with his body and blood. He is the Lord who sanctifies us through the sacramental actions of the priests. He is the Lord who blesses us and strengthens us with his divine presence.

Let’s be clear about it as we listen to this gospel today. Jesus is beyond making you feel good and calming your anxiety. Does he do that? Yes, but that’s not his mission. Jesus does not just walk on the sea; he is the maker of the seas and the stars. He is the Son of God who died for your salvation. Understanding who the Lord is can help us to genuinely approach him, knowing also our worth and mission. The Caesarea Philippi Peter does not act by flesh and blood, but rather by divine strength and grace. He is the rock, the stronghold of God’s Church. Like Saint Francis, let us pray for the grace to understand Christ and to be truly known. The gates of the netherworld will always wrestle against us, but once we know and follow Jesus, once we come to him as the Lord, we stay firmly rooted on the true foundation that is the rock.

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

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