Twenty First Sunday of Ordinary Time: August 27, 2023

Matthew 16: 13-20

Fr. John Tran

In his teens, C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia and many other books, was a professed agnostic. He was influenced in his conversion to Christianity by reading G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, and through the influence of two of his Christian friends. After his conversion, he wrote a number of books defending Christianity. During the Second World War, in his famous BBC radio talk, “Mere Christianity,” he said, “I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who is merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic, on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg, or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” — If we accept Jesus as a moral teacher, then we must necessarily accept Him as God, for great moral teachers do not tell lies. Who Jesus is then, is not an idle question, but one of great importance.

This passage in today’s gospel from Matthew is a turning point in Jesus’ earthly life. From this point on in Matthew’s gospel Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to meet his suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus realizes this and has one important question to find out: Do any of these followers of mine get the point? Do they understand what I am doing, what I am about? Do they know the real reason for my being here? Has Jesus’ teaching gotten through to anyone? This is an important question as he approaches the end of his earthly days.

Jesus begins finding this out by asking this question to his disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” So, he begins in a general way by asking what people have made of him. Who do people say he is. The answers are many. They begin with a prophet contemporary with Jesus, John the Baptist, because Jesus too speaks of repentance and turning to God. Then the disciples report that people also say he is Elijah or Jeremiah, great among the prophets who urged the people to change their ways. The disciples are the ones, of course, who hear what people say and keep up with the gossip.

But Jesus wants more; he really is not so interested in what people are saying. He wants to know what the disciples think. After all, they are the ones who have received his inner teaching, they are the ones who have heard the parables explained. They are the ones who know Jesus better than any human being, except his own mother. So, finally Jesus asks them, “who do you say that I am?” The disciples must have known that this was coming. Jesus had not been an easy man to figure out. He seemed to be a great prophet, greater than John the Baptist. He had cured many people, expelled many demons, worked many miracles; he had taught virtuous living and merciful conduct. In fact, Jesus was the most compassionate person they knew. Yet he is not the type of political messiah they expected. So the time to sum all of this up had come.

There must have been a muted gasp at this point. What to say, and who should say it? And after a moment, Peter, the bold one, said, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

But all of this is not just some historical report is it? No, the question: “Who do you say that I am?” is not just for some past time and long deceased people. That question is for you and me today. It is a question that continues through all time until time is no more. It is a question that each disciple of every age must answer, and answer truthfully. Why? Because the answer that we give changes our lives. If we say, ‘Oh, you are a good man who teaches how to live a good life, and that is all,’ then you will live your life one way. This way does not have any real demand on you; does not call you to any change what ever.

But if you answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” then you have the opportunity to become someone completely new. You can work your own kind of miracles by showing compassion in a world where it is so rare, by healing others through God’s word and showing his face to them, by giving of yourself and resources to give the powerless of this world a chance in life and a voice. Someone once said, “Peace is made one friendship at a time.” So is bringing about the Father’s Kingdom by Jesus’ disciples. Slowly, day by day, you can, in short, become a son or daughter of God, and help others to be so as well.