There was a time in the Church when many of our youth programmes started with a session on self-discovery. Whether it was CHOICE, Youth Alive, or Life & Love, the first session after the introductions would be a session entitled “Who am I?” or somewhere there about. Sessions using tools like Enneagram, Myers Briggs or other personality tests were considered integral for the growth of the person.
Today’s gospel is somewhat like Jesus doing a personality assessment of Himself with the disciples: Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am? For some, this may seem as if Jesus was seeking self-affirmation or self-approval but it is not so. This encounter of Jesus and His disciples marks an important turning point in the relationship between Jesus and His disciples.
We are getting into the last third of the gospel of Matthew (beginning from Chapter 16 onwards). In the preceding section, Matthew narrates much of Jesus’ miracles and how many people marvelled over Jesus’ ability to heal, forgive, cast off/out demons, multiply loaves, and even walk on water. Even the disciples were taken up with what Jesus could do.
Now comes the turning point…having seen all these wonderful acts, Jesus needed to know who do the disciples think He is? It is based on the answer that Peter provides, Jesus now goes on to reveal about the cross that He must undertake. If Jesus had talked about the cross in the beginning, the disciples would have run away from Him.
For this reason Jesus had to first ask, who do people say I am? For the general public, He was just a prophet or some miracle worker or magician. There were many such individuals during the time of Jesus. Peter’s proclamation “You are the Messiah” (Messiah is a Hebrew word that means “anointed one”; its Greek translation is Christos) is the indication that the disciples now know who Jesus really is and it is time to reveal the destiny of the cross.
Peter’s profession of faith should somehow remind us that being a disciple of Jesus includes the cross and it is something that we cannot run away from… Jesus Himself embraced the cross for all of us and He knows the weight of the cross. When Jesus tells Peter that “on this rock I will build my Church”, He knew very well that Peter will later deny knowing Jesus, but yet gives him the keys to the kingdom.
It only goes to show that Jesus could overlook Peter’s weaknesses and rely on the strengths that Peter possessed. It shows us how much God loves us. On the other hand, we often tend to look at the weaknesses of others and overlook the goodness or strengths of others. How often do we compliment one another? We are more likely to point out the faults of others and we continue to remember and harp on them.
The self-revelation of Jesus in the gospel reminds us of two important facts: following Jesus is difficult and that it requires us to overlook the weaknesses of others. These past few days we have been reading the good memories of those who died on MH17. Did they actually hear these good things when they were alive? Probably not as much as when they had been alive. The cross of another person can be made lighter when we appreciate one another rather than run each other down.
As we too make our profession of faith today like Peter, let us also like Jesus, learn to appreciate one another and value the gift of relationships. So, say something nice today to your parents, spouse, children, neighbour, maid, friend, the cashier in the supermarket, the car park attendant, the waiter in the restaurant, and lighten their cross.
– 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)