Last Sunday’s Gospel told the story at Caesarea Phillipi where Jesus asks his disciples “Who do people say I am? Then more directly asks his disciples who they say he is. Peter ultimately answered for all of them, “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the Living God!”
“When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi* he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”They replied, “Some say John the Baptist,* others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
“Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.” Matthew 16:13-20
Soon the title “Christ” became Jesus’ second name. It is mentioned more than 500 times in the New Testament, almost always in the composite form “Jesus Christ” or “Our Lord Jesus Christ.” To say “Christ” was not to call Jesus by his name, but to make an affirmation about him. Christ, we know, is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Mashiah, or Messiah, and both mean “anointed.” The term derives from the fact that in the Old Testament kings, prophets and priests were consecrated through an anointing with perfumed oil.
Increasingly in the Bible there clearly is talk of a special anointed or consecrated one who will come in the end times to fulfill God’s promises of salvation to his people. The promise of the coming of the Messiah is in Gen. 3:15 where it summarizes what the Messiah will accomplish: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He will bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
In Isaiah 9:6, the birth of the Messiah and his attributes are described, “For to us a child is born, And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The Messiah must be descended from King David, ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘When I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a king who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In His days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. “Jeremiah 23:5-6
The Messiah would be the Son of God, “He has said to Me, You are My Son; today I have begotten You” Ps 2:7 The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, “But thou Bethlehem Ephratha, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall One come forth unto Me that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from old, from Ancient of Days.”
The Messiah would suffer. While the Old Testament portrays the Messiah as a glorious King as well as both a human and divine figure, it also indicates that He will suffer and be put to death only to rise miraculously (resurrection from death.) Isaiah 52:13-53:12
The whole early tradition of the Church is unanimous in proclaiming that Jesus of Nazareth is the awaited Messiah. Jesus himself, according to Mark, will proclaim himself such before the Sanhedrin. To the question of the High Priest: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” He replies: “I am” (Mark 14:61 ff.).
It is puzzling somewhat the way Sunday’s Scripture reading concludes. “And he commanded them energetically not to speak about him to any one.” However, the motive is clear. Jesus accepts being identified with the awaited Messiah, but not with the idea that Judaism had made for itself of the Messiah.
In the prevailing opinion in Jesus’ day, the Messiah was seen as a political and military leader who would liberate Israel from pagan dominion and establish the kingdom of God on earth by force. Jesus had to profoundly correct this idea before allowing His disciples to talk of him as the Messiah. To this end he began to teach them that the “Son of Man must suffer many things.”
“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Mark 8:30
The harsh words addressed to Peter, Get behind me, Satan!” seeking to dissuade Peter from such thoughts: “are identical with that addressed to the tempter (Satan) in the desert. In both cases, in fact, it is about attempts to deflect Jesus from the path that the Father has indicated to him — that of the suffering servant of Yahweh –
Salvation will come from the sacrifice of himself, from “giving his life in ransom for many,” not from the elimination of the enemy. Jesus will not be fooled into following the wrong path.
Regrettably, we must state that Peter’s error has been repeated in history. Certain men of the Church, and even Successors of Peter, have behaved at certain times as if the Kingdom of God was of this world and should be affirmed with the victory (if necessary also with arms) over enemies, instead of doing so with suffering and martyrdom.
Even today, people have very diverse opinions on Jesus, is he :merely a prophet, a great teacher, a great personality, a good man etc. It has become fashionable to present Jesus in media and novels in the strangest ways. The “Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown is only the latest in a long series.
A leap of faith must be taken that does not come from the flesh or from blood, but is a gift of God which must be accepted through the humble obedience, an interior light from which faith is born. Every day there are men and women who take this leap.
One thing is certain: Those who have taken this leap will not go back for anything in the world to satisfy that hunger for the truth. “My heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee,”.(St. Augustine) Like St. Hillary of Poitiers, who converted when he was an adult, they are willing to exclaim: “Before knowing you, I did not exist.”
Jesus not only poses a question to his disciples, but he does to us today:
HOW DO WE ANSWER HIM????
AND WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE IT MAKES IN OUR LIFE OF DISCIPESHIP!
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