Aug 27, 2023
“Who Do You Say That I am”
First Reading (Isaiah 22. 15, 19 – 23) Psalm: 138. Second Reading (Romans 11. 33 – 36)
Gospel (Matthew 16. 13 – 20)
William Barclay tells us the story of a man who possessed a wonderful, magical opal ring.
Any person who wore the ring turned out to be very good and attracted the love of
everyone. A short while before he died, the old man secretly gave an opal ring to each of
his three sons. After their father’s death, the sons had an argument over which of the rings
was the genuine, magical one.
Since they could reach no conclusion on their own, they approached the sage of the town.
The wise old man told them: “My Sons, only time will tell which of you has the magical
ring. You will answer that question by your lives.”
In today’s Gospel the disciples of Jesus are faced with a difficult question, perhaps a
strange one too: “Who do you say that I am?” Does this question suggest that Jesus is
going through an identity crisis? A random analysis of the question may point toward that
possibility. A second possibility is that Jesus may want to know if His followers know
His true identity.
A deeper and more reflective reading of today’s Gospel shows the real reason for Jesus’
question. He wants to teach us another dimension in our relationship with God. To the
question, “Who do you say that I am?” it is Simon, soon to be called Peter, who answers
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Jesus comments: “Flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but My heavenly Father (Mt
16: 13 – 17). Recall what Jesus said earlier, “All things have been handed over to Me by
Youchooses to reveal Him” (11:27). No calculus no philosophical arguments, no mental
gymnastics can truly answer this question: Who is Jesus? Only the Father’s grace will.
We cannot know God on our own; that knowledge can only be given by God Himself. St.
Paul cautions us, “How deep are the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God!”
(Rom 11: 33). Only God can reveal them to those open to receive. “Simon, do you love
me?” “Lord, You know everything: You know that I love you” (Jn 21: 17). If we wish to
be built like ‘living stones’ into that ‘spiritual house’ (1 Pet 2: 5), we must likewise love
Him that we may truly know Him, if such be the Father’s will.
Peter acknowledges who Jesus is (Son of God), because, in spite of his doubt, Peter is
saved from the raging seas. Jesus reveals who He is through Peter’s experience of fright,
sinking and being saved. The other disciples, without such a gripping personal experience
of Jesus’ saving power, reply to Jesus’ question with answers drawn from the experience
of their ancestors, not their own.
Peter has a new and personal experience of God’s saving power in Jesus an so he answers
from a faith standpoint beyond where the other disciples are, a knowledge that has only
come because the heavenly Father has revealed it to him. Peter acknowledges Jesus as the
Revelation does not mean that we sit around in silence, waiting for God to speak to us. It
means that we open our eyes to see, our ears to hear and our hearts to experience Jesus’
presence and power in the daily happenings around us. It is only our faith that enables us
to walk on the stormy sea of life, hear Jesus’ call and venture out into the raging waters.
Hence, through the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus brings home the
awesome truth that it is God who reveals Himself to us and we encounter and enjoy Him,
not due to our merit, but by sheer grace. God cannot be comprehended or exhaustively
grasped on our own, but we come to know Him only through a continuous outpouring of
His Spirit. The question still rings in our ears. Human as we are, we might use a few
psychological techniques or theological reflections to tackle this question.
Jesus does not want an answer that we gained as a result of research or even based on the
experience of others. He wants our personal answer that defines our relationship with
Him. He is not looking for a scholarly theory, theological opinion or information but
wants a surrendering and abiding experience of Him that will help us to encounter. Let us
pray that we may be enabled to experience Him as Peter did in his life.
Jesus remains at the centre, as the Christ, Son of the Living God, and he continues to be
the Church’s true Rock. We today, just as much as in the time of St Peter, need the
ministry of faithful apostles, entrusted by Christ to build up his people, witness to the
faith, and provide leadership in Christian love. Pope, bishops, priests and other ministries
exist in order to serve. But in some sense, we get the service that we deserve. It is for us to
make known to our pastors both our appreciation and our loyal criticisms; especially to
pray for them, for their courage and perseverance. Today we particularly remember the
present successor of Peter, our Pope; that God may establish him in faith and wisdom; that
being strong in himself, he may confirm the brethren; and that as Chief Shepherd he may
help us on our way to the Kingdom.