With the dawn of the Internet, online opinion polls have become the go to method when wanting to find out what proportion of a population has a specific viewpoint. However, they do not explain why respondents believe as they do or how to change their minds. Such polls are simply a measurement tool that tells us how a population thinks and feels about any given topic. Even though each of us may have an opinion about any subject matter, we also realise that our opinions are often shaped by our circumstances and possibly also by the people who surround us.

The Gospel today presents somewhat an “opinion poll” and it is founded on two key questions that Jesus puts to His disciples: firstly, who do people say I am? And secondly, who do you say I am? Jesus asks the disciples what people are saying about Him; who do they think He is. The question is by no means a self-serving one but rather its seeks to discover how Jesus’ words, actions and even miracles are being perceived by the people. 

Being the Son of God, Jesus surely knew what people thought of Him but it prepares the disciples for their own assessment of Jesus after having spent some time with Him. This little “opinion poll” was going to be the spring board to take the disciples to the next level, where Jesus will reveal the destiny that awaits Him in Jerusalem.

To the people, they only believed that Jesus was a prophetic figure who had come back from the dead and that is why they associated Jesus with John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. It is understandable simply because the great prophets had indeed spoken about the coming of the reign of God which would be preceded by the coming of a “mysterious prophet”. The transition from one question to the next in this encounter is going to reveal the true identity of Jesus and His messianic role.

When Simon Peter responded by saying ‘You are the Christ’ (the anointed one, the Messiah), he couldn’t have given a more accurate answer  but yet Jesus gave the disciples  strict orders not to tell anyone about Him – why? Peter’s expectation of the Messiah as the one who was going to establish the Kingdom of God on earth was quite different from the actual purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world. Jesus had to first make His disciples understand how the Father is going to demonstrate His plan for the salvation of humankind through the cross. Peter immediately remonstrates to this idea because in his limited human understanding, this plan showed weakness and defeat, not success but failure.

After having told the disciples of the plan of the Father, Jesus will then invite His disciples to the same pathway – to renounce oneself, take up the cross and follow Him. Jesus primarily tells His disciples that renunciation of all forms of selfishness will only lead to a self-giving love as shown by Jesus on the cross. The cross is the sign of love and to carry one’s cross means to join Jesus in giving the greatest proof of love to the world. 

Professing Jesus as the Christ, Messiah, or by any other title that we may use, involves taking Jesus as the model and following in His footsteps. In the world that we live in, it may not be the most popular option because it involves many sacrifices. It may be easier to conform to the ways of the world, to give in to the ridicule of the people around us. The world also gives us so many ways to conform through advertisements, TV shows and movies. 

Parents have tough conversations with their children about toys, gadgets, and privileges their friends have and which they don’t; young adults struggle to contain emotions of jealousy to see their friends and colleagues succeed; families don’t want to be left behind in ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. In the midst of all these, Jesus tells us, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me’. 

Following Christ is not like following someone on social media. It is not about the number of ‘likes’ and ‘subscribes’. It is about making a choice – a choice that will entail sacrifices. When Simon Peter professes Jesus as the Christ, little did he know that the folly of the cross will accompany him. 

Simon Peter expected Jesus to conform to his understanding of a messiah but Jesus in turn leads the disciples to conform to His vision of the kingdom. Following Jesus is not about succeeding in the opinion polls but being faithful even on that road less travelled. Therefore, let us ‘not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will’ (Rom 12:2).

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (12 Sept 2021)