Homily for twenty-fourth Sunday B14 Sep 2018, by Sermons in
Our gospel passage this morning is a very familiar one; we all may have read it so often 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 around Caesarea Philippi. On the way, he put this question to his disciples, who do people say I am? Interestingly, Jesus had to ask this question around this region or on his way to this region. You may call this a coincidence, 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 an important history. This region was a great center for the worship of Baal, just as Jerusalem was the center for the worship of the God of Israel. Caesarea Philippi was the birthplace of the so-called Greek god, Pan, the god of nature. It was a region dominated by idol worship, a region that rejected Israel’s God to worship Baal. In this region, Jesus asked the apostles two fundamental 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 think 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 effortless to talk about how other people behave, how they live their lives and their mistakes. It is very easy to judge and condemn others while we are not innocent in most cases. Jesus, this morning directs this question to us individually; who do you say I am? Is Jesus for you what others say he is? Is Jesus for you what your pastor or priest says he is? Do you have 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 birthplace 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, so he did not find it difficult to say we have found the Messiah. But in Caesarea Philippi, the region outside Galilee, the region where Baal is worshiped, the birthplace of Pan, the same Andrew who had found the Messiah and introduced Peter to him was allowed 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 had 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, he openly said, we have found the Messiah. But 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 familiar territory or comfortable. They put their faith in Jesus only when things seem to be going on well with them, the moment they begin to face difficult situations, and the answer to their prayers seem not to become 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 put 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; our faith’s inactiveness 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!