Homily for twenty-fourth Sunday B
Our gospel passage this morning is a very familiar one, we all may have read it so many times and listened to so many homilies on it. But one thing that may not be too familiar is the nature of that region of Caesarea Philippi.
Mark tells us that Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, who do people say I am? It is interesting that Jesus had to ask this question around this region or on his way to this region. You may call this a coincident but I look beyond coincidence to see the light of God penetrating a darkened world. The region of Caesarea Philippi was out of Galilee, it was a land with important history. This region was a great centre for the worship of Baal just as Jerusalem was the centre for the worship of the God of Israel. Caesarea Philippi was said to be the birth place of the so called Greek god, Pan, the god of nature. It was a region dominated by idol worship, a region that rejected the God of Israel to worship Baal. It was in this region Jesus asked the apostles two very important questions: who do people say I am?…who do you say I am?.These are very fundamental questions, your relationship with God depends on the answer you give.
When Jesus asked the apostles what people thinks about him, their answers were probably in chorus. They did not hesitate to talk about what others think about Jesus; And they told him John the Baptist, they said other Elijah; others again, one of the prophets. It was so easy for them to talk about others, they answered in chorus, excited talking about others. But when Jesus asked them what they personally think about him, they hesitated until Peter answered, you are the Christ.
It is very easy to talk about how other people behave, how they live their lives, and the mistakes they make. It is very easy to judge and condemn others while we in most cases are not innocent. Jesus this morning directs this question to us individually; who do you say I am? Is Jesus for you what others says he is? Is Jesus for you what your pastor or priest says he is? Do you have a personal knowledge of who Jesus is? St. Paul tells us that all he wanted was to know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Phil. 3:10). Do you know him?
Let me take you back to the region of Caesarea Philippi, the birth place of the so called god, Pan. Here, Jesus asked, who do you say I am? and Peter answered, you are the Christ. Peter was not the first to recognize Jesus as the Christ or the Messiah. In fact, Andrew, Peter’s own brother was the one that introduced Peter to Jesus. One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “we have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus (Jn.1:40-42). Andrew found Jesus in the land of Israel, in the land flowing with milk and honey. Andrew found God in the land where the God of Israel is worship and so he did not find it difficult at all to say, we have found the Messiah. But in Caesarea Philippi, the region outside Galilee, the region where Baal is worshiped, the birth place of Pan, the same Andrew who had found the Messiah and introduced Peter to him was given the opportunity to tell who Jesus is but he said nothing. Jesus asked, who do you say I am? Nobody said anything, Andrew kept quiet. Imagine, Andrew who told Peter that they have found the Messiah was silent when Jesus asked them about his own identity, but thank God for the faith of Peter, the fearless faith upon which the Church is built. Peter said, you are the Christ.
When it was comfortable for Andrew, when he was in a familiar territory he openly said we have found the Messiah, but when he was in the region of Caesarea Philippi, he kept quiet when Jesus asked, who do you say I am?
So many Christians display this kind of attitude. Jesus is Lord and king of kings only when they are in a familiar territories, or when it is comfortable. They put their faith in Jesus only when things seems to be going on well with them, the moment they begin to face difficult situations and the answer to their prayers seem not to be coming the way they wanted it, they give different answer to Jesus’ question. He is no longer the Christ; they turn to “Baal” and “Pan” for help. They begin to jump from one Church to the other looking not for Jesus but “powerful” men and women of God. When their faith is been but to the test, they become afraid to say, you are the Christ. Jesus becomes a failure, a very slow God
Brothers and sisters, as Christians we must learn from Peter’s example. For Peter, in Galilee Jesus is the Christ and outside Galilee or if you like in Caesarea Philippi Jesus is still the Christ. In season and out of season, Jesus is the Christ. In whatever situation we find ourselves, Jesus is the Christ. Our faith in Christ must be put into action, inactiveness of our faith can kill the faith. James talks about this active faith in our second reading. Following Christ is not mere words but, faith in action.
We pray today that our faith may be strengthened like those of Peter and Andrew. At some points in their lives they showed some forms of weakness, but they repented and followed Christ to the end. May we hold onto Jesus no matter what we meet in life. Jesus is the Christ!