21st Sunday in Ordinary - So, What Do You Think?

As Christians, we acknowledge Jesus as Christ, the Messiah, and it comes as something of a surprise to us when we discover in the Scriptures that Jesus, at times, did not want His followers to refer to Him in this way.

If you have studied the Gospels, you are familiar with this problem -- called the "Messianic Secret" by Scripture scholars.

Peter was the first disciple to acknowledge openly that Jesus was the promised Messiah. "Who do you say that I am?" he was asked. "So, what do you think...?"

"You are the Christ," Peter answered (Mt. 16:15-16). And then came Jesus' strange reply in which He strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He is the Christ. Why? Why not spread the news as quickly as possible?  Perhaps Peter and the others hadn't yet come to understand who the Messiah really was.

The people of Jesus' time already had fixed notions as to who the Messiah would be and what He would be like. And Jesus did not fit the mold. They were convinced that the Messiah would come in the form of a great warrior king in the tradition of King David. He would be the military leader and political leader that would win freedom and independence for Israel. Peter and the rest of the disciples probably had the same notion of what the Messiah would bring to Israel.  And as we’ll see in next week’s Gospel, Peter just could not bring Himself to accept Jesus' forecast of His Passion and Crucifixion. "God forbid, Lord, this must not happen to you," he exclaims (Mt. 16:22).

Little by little and over time, Peter and the others come to realize that this Jesus, this Messiah, is very different from the one they were looking for:

"On this rock I will build my church."  Matthew is the only evangelist to use this technical term, which derives from the Hebrew word qahal, or "assembly," of the people of Israel.  Against this foundation stone, weak and frail as Peter is, and the community built upon it, even the forces of death will be powerless.  This phrase in today's Gospel is testimony to the continuity of church and the life of Jesus.  The community is distintive because it follows Jesus - it shares in His glory and so also must share in the opposition that Jesus himself experienced.  Leadership in this community is validated if it is based on the kind of faithfulness shown by Peter - one that recognizes the capacity to be a "stumbling block" as well as the "foundation stone."

We can begin to see how practical and contemporary this is. To one degree or another, we try to shape the Messiah according to our own preconceptions. We tailor His image to fit our own desires and our own concerns. We refuse to let Him come into our lives on His terms. We try to shape Him to fit our own images and prejudices.

Jesus comes to us, always ready to enrich our lives, always ready to move us into the fullness of life. But we miss Him completely when we are not ready to receive Him on His terms.

The "How? ... When? ... and Where?" are Jesus' concerns, not ours. If we can't accept Him as He truly is, then there can be no room in our life for Him.

In order to make room, it may be necessary to relinquish certain things we want to cling to -- certain attitudes, or certain habits or certain ideas. It may be painful, even agonizing to do so, but until the change occurs, until that which is blocking out the Christ is relinquished, no amount of going to church and no amount of self-pity over life's frustrations will open the door to Jesus.  This is called conversion of heart.

Accepting the Messiah on His terms means believing in His promise that though you die, yet shall you live.   Jesus challenges us again with the same very basic question:   “Who do you say that I am?”

Do you know who I am? Do you know me? Jesus' question is addressed to us now. And we, His followers answer readily, "You are the Christ. You are the Messiah. You are the Son of the Living God." But there is an implied crucial follow-up question as well: "How well do we know Him?"

Do we know Him well enough to trust His promise to lead us into eternal life with God, who is Love?

Do we trust in His promise that we will discover our life's true meaning and purpose in and through our love for one another?
 
If our answer is "Yes!", then we too might well hear the Lord saying, "Bless are you, you are a happy man, you are a happy woman, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”