Who do people say that I am

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Daily Readings: Isaiah 50:5-9, James 2:14-18 & Mark 8:27-35

Reflection Date: September 12, 2021

In the first reading (Isaiah 50: 5 – 9a), the suffering servant of Yahweh is assured of God's help. While in the second reading (James 2: 14 – 18), James teaches that faith must be demonstrated in one's works.
Moreover, today's Gospel (Mark 8: 27 – 35) is a conglomeration of many themes:

  • the revelation of what people think about Jesus,
  • the revelation of Peter about Jesus,
  • the revelation of the future mission of Peter,
  • the personal revelation of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the human element of Peter in shunning passion and then the rebuking of Peter by Jesus – his Master for failing to see the immediate plan of God.

Umpteen times, Peter is shown by the Evangelists as a spokesperson for the close group of Jesus' Apostles. When Jesus inquired about their "take" on Him their Master, Peter emphatically exclaimed that "Jesus is the Christ, Son of the Living God." Moreover, after having established His identity in the minds of His apostles, filling interiorly that they have understood Him and mission, Jesus went on to tell them about His suffering and death. But then the Passion, Death and Resurrection revelation shocked them, and Peter in His characteristic style remonstrated with the Lord, because he couldn't fathom the reason for this suffering and death.

How could Jesus suffer when He had been doing great things for the people and for God? This question and many other questions must have surely cropped into the mind of Peter and other Apostles. Nonetheless, suffering and death is indeed a mystery, and the world of nature teaches us that death produces life.

For example, a seed must die to produce a new plant, a woman needs to undergo pangs of childbirth to give life to the newborn child, leaves on the trees need to wither away, new leaves need to take their place, etc. Similarly, we cannot reach eternal life without first dying to this life. We share in Christ's death by accepting our crosses and dying to self and our egos.

The Apostles, men chosen by Jesus through prayer (Luke 6: 12 – 26) who had been with Jesus in His ministry of healing, preaching and spreading of the Kingdom of God are inquired by Jesus about the understanding of the people and their own perspective on Jesus.

In today's Gospel, Jesus tests His Apostles with some crucial yet decisive questions: who do people say that I am and who do you say I am? Surely, these questions were not "out of the blue" or "out of context" because Jesus was widely recognized in Israel as a mighty man of God, even being compared with the greatest of the prophets: i.e., John the Baptist, Elijah and Jeremiah.

After having made known the viewpoint of the people, Peter who was always quick to respond in many of Jesus' questioning – inquiries – remarks etc., and so this time too Peter does not hesitate to reveal his viewpoint on Jesus wherein he exclaimed that "He was the Christ, the Son of the living God." Nonetheless, no mortal being could have revealed this to Peter, but only God and Jesus confirm this understanding.

For the answer of Peter, Jesus rewards him. Jesus then confers on Peter, the supreme authority to govern the Church that Jesus would establish - a Church that no powers would ever overcome. Jesus plays on Peter's name, the same word for "rock" in both Aramaic and Greek. Even though Peter will wander away from His Master and deny Him yet Jesus will stand by Peter and affirm Peter's selection and mission (John 21: 15 ff).

Indeed, to call someone a "rock" is one of the greatest of compliments. Through faith, Peter grasped who Jesus truly was. He was the first apostle to recognize Jesus as the Anointed One and the only begotten Son of God.

Faith in Jesus Christ makes us into rocks or spiritual stones. The Lord Jesus tests each of us personally with the same question: who do you say that I am? Our answer will depend on how well we know God and His Son Jesus and our efforts to make the Triune God known to others.

Let our lifestyle reveal our faith experience o Jesus and who is Jesus for each of us.

Joseph Cardozo SJ | Contributor