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Twenty First Sunday of Ordinary Time

August 23, 2020

Matthew 16: 13 - 20

By Rev. John Tran

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 expect.  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.  Slowly, day by day, you can, in short, become a son or daughter of God.

Every day Tim would go to the nursing home and visit her. Each time she would ask Tim who he was and why he was visiting her. And each time Tim would explain who he was and why he was visiting. He would tell the story of all the children and grandchildren, all the activities and all the news of his family. And while he was feeding her lunch each day, he would gently remind her that he was married for 52 years to the same woman and that woman was she. Then each time she would smile brightly as if told for the first time. That woman was Margaret, and Margaret suffers from Alzheimer’s disease; she moves in and out of reality. Tim tends to her each and every day and before he leaves, he caresses her gently, kisses her and tells her that he loves her dearly, knowing well, that tomorrow he will have to repeat the whole routine over and over again. His friends plead with Tim as to why he continues to put himself through this. They tell him, “She doesn’t even know who you are any more.” And he would always respond in the same way, “But I know who she is, and I know who I am.” — The reality of our lives is that we are known by our actions. How we treat one another is how we first know who we are for ourselves and that is how others come to know us. It is our actions that we will be known for. And that is what Jesus asks today, “Who do people say that I am?” Do I know Jesus? Do I know who I am?

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