To read the texts click on the texts: Zech 12:10-11;13:1; Gal 3:26-29; Lk9:18-24
The two questions regarding Jesus’ identity are found in all three Synoptic Gospels and are extremely significant. The first question concerns who the “people” think Jesus is and the second, who the “disciples” think he is. The answers that the people and the disciples give will determine if they have really understood Jesus. It is clear from the answers of the people that they have not grasped the full import of the person of Jesus. For them, he is merely another prophet, another messenger of God. Peter acts as the spokesman for the disciples in the Synoptic Gospels. His answer differs slightly in each, but the core is the same: Jesus is the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah.
The question concerning the Messiah or the Christ was a question that was uppermost in the minds of most people at the time of Jesus. They were waiting anxiously for the Messiah to come and redeem them. Roman occupation had tired them and their one hope was redemption through the Messiah. Many saw redemption as the overthrow of the Romans and some even expected it to be violent. No one, not even the disciples, would have expected the Kingdom to come in the way Jesus brought it. His way was beyond their wildest expectations.
We are given some indication of this novel and radical way in the Gospel of Luke, who alone has the scene of “Peter’s Confession” immediately after the feeding of the 5000. Through this, Luke already indicates that Jesus will be the Messiah who, instead of overthrowing the Romans and using violence, will be one who will feed the hungry with bread and make the sick and invalid whole. He will be a Messiah who reaches out in compassion and love. Unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke avoids mentioning the name of the place where the Confession was made, possibly to avoid any association with Caesar and the tetrarch, Philip, after whom the place was named. Luke places it instead in the context of the prayer of Jesus. This highlights the fact that the way of Jesus stood in direct opposition to the way of the Emperors of this world and their tetrarchs. Their way would be the way of domination, exercising authority, and striving for supremacy. Jesus’ way would be the way of service, humility, and being least and last. This is confirmed by the command to silence and in the sayings that follow Peter’s Confession.
The command to silence that Jesus gives in each of the Gospels after Peter’s Confession, is a caution that Jesus is unsure if the disciples have understood him as they ought. Although on one level, Peter’s answer is the right one, Jesus needs to ensure that Peter and the disciples have understood the true meaning and consequences of the answer.
The sayings which follow the command to silence reiterate that Jesus is neither a violent Messiah nor one who will come to dominate and subdue. Rather, he will be one who will lose himself so that others may find themselves. He will face all kinds of trials and tribulations, all kinds of insult and injury, and all kinds of ingratitude and thanklessness. He will even carry courageously his daily cross to teach people his way, the way of unconditional love. He will stand by his convictions irrespective of the consequences. He will do what God wants him to do, no matter the outcome.
This way of unconditional love is hinted at in the first reading of today. The prophet Zephaniah prophesies that the one who has laid himself on the line by standing for his convictions has been put to death. Though he seems defeated in death, this is the one at whom people will look in awe and in wonder. This is the one for whom they will mourn because they will have realized that he was courageous and bold, that he stood for what he believed in.
Today, more than two thousand years after Jesus, his questions remain the same: Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am? Peter’s answer must remain that: Peter’s answer. Each of us will have to answer these questions for ourselves. Though they seem like two separate questions, they are in fact, intimately connected. The answer to the first question depends on how we answer the second. When we know who Jesus is for us, then people will know who Jesus is. The reason for this is that, unlike two thousand or so years ago, Jesus does not walk the earth physically but only in and through those of us who believe in him. It is we who reveal him to the world. It is through our words and our actions that those who do not know him can come to know him and recognize him for who he is.
Paul gives us some pointers in the second reading of today of how we are to be if people are to recognize Christ today. When we love without distinction as Jesus did, when we spend ourselves in service, when we are content with letting the reward for our actions be the doing of the actions, and when we give, give, and ever give, then we show that Christ, whom God sent, is present in our midst even today and people will know him and love him as the one who was sent.