24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B
In the midst of the highly paganized territory of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked the people who they thought He was. During the course of the public ministry of Jesus, the people must have had different perceptions of Him. But more importantly He was interested in the perception of who His disciples thought He was. Peter who was the spokesperson of the apostles proclaimed “You are the Christ.”
Israel since time immemorial had been longing for the coming of their messiah. Because they were under the Roman rule during the time of Jesus, the Jews were not just waiting for a messiah but for a strong political messiah who would bring an end to their poverty and freedom from their slavery from Roman rule. Although Peter professed that Jesus was the Christ nonetheless his understanding was the same as the rest of the Jews. Because of that Jesus called him “Satan”.
Before Jesus embarked on His public ministry, He had His “40-day retreat” in the desert. The devil, who was aware of the mission of Jesus to inaugurate the Kingdom of God through the cross, tried to stop Him through the three temptations which were a shortcut to glory without any suffering and pain. Jesus rebuked the devil: “Get away, Satan.” Anyone who tempts us away from God is a satan.
Like the Jews who needed a messiah, we also need our own messiah. Like Peter, we profess that Jesus is the Christ. The word Christ which is actually a title comes from the Greek word christos or the equivalent Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (mashiah or messiah) meaning “the Anointed One”. Yes we want to profess that Jesus is the Christ but if our perception of the messiah is like that of Peter’s, then eventually we will also be scandalized. In the first place, who among us would want pain and suffering? In the secularized world, who would ever want self-renunciation, sacrifice, fasting, abstinence, much less the cross? They seem not to appeal to the senses or to right reason. And what do we want? the political messiah of the Jews, a super-God who will free us from pain, heal our sickness, put an end to our poverty and solve all our problems. We want to follow Christ but not with the cross. This is how the devil has been tempting us all the time; this is the maxim of the secularized world: “take up the shortcut to glory and fame without sacrifice. The cross is an abomination!”
Because we are following a crucified Christ, our life will not be free of suffering. But we do not just embrace suffering as such because suffering without the salvific action of Christ is empty. Our following of Christ demands that we are able to translate our profession of faith in Him into concrete works just like the reminder of James in the second reading today: Faith without works is dead. If we only pray for the poor or victims of calamities but without giving something to them, our prayer is empty. If we are faithful in going to Sunday mass but without contributing for the upliftment of the poor and the needy, our worship is incomplete.
In this highly secularized world, if we do not follow Christ, who is our messiah? If we do not embrace the cross, what would be our other options?