Who Are You?
Homily for August 27, 2017 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
Who do people say that YOU are? If you asked a group of your friends what others thought of you, what do you think they would say? Would it be the same thing that those closest to you would say?
There are usually three types of people that we encounter:
• Strangers: those that don’t know us or only know us by name;
• Acquaintances: those that know OF us or who have met us briefly; and
• Friends: those who THINK they know us.
And, there could be a 4th group – those who indeed know us. The REAL us. Maybe.
Do YOU know who you are? That can be a tough question.
We live in a world of false images and aliases; of secret identities and masks – sometimes with good reason. We fight fiercely to hide our identity so that others won’t steal it. We want our privacy so we build both physical and emotional walls to protect us. Often we don’t want people to know us too well simply because we know that there are aspects about us that they might not like – that WE don’t like about ourselves. We can develop dual personalities – one visible to the world, and one hidden within ourselves which hides the pains and scars caused by the physical and emotional traumas of our life. We live so long behind our masks that we can forget who we are.
But God knows who we are, even when we don’t.
Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus asking his disciples what others say about him. These are the people who would be strangers, per se – not quite to the level of acquaintances, although they may have heard about Jesus or saw him in passing – maybe even sat at table with him somewhere. But these are the people who can only relate to Jesus through rumor and gossip; they DON’T know him at all.
Then Jesus asks his group, “What about you? Who do YOU think I am?” Now, these guys – and a few gals, I’m sure – have been with Jesus going on a couple of years now and so have seen him in action more than once, and so have an understanding of WHAT he’s capable of. But is that enough to KNOW who he is?
Simon Peter thinks he does. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!"
But there is a difference between knowing ABOUT someone and KNOWING someone. When he tells Simon Peter that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father”, Jesus doesn’t mean that God the Father whispered it into his ear or even tattooed it on his heart. Jesus refers to the knowledge gained as a witness to his works, which reveal his divine nature. And, as we will see next week, despite his “knowing” who Jesus is here; he still doesn’t fully understand WHAT he thinks he knows – and none of them will fully understand THAT until after the Resurrection.
Simon Peter’s statement does show a certain level of knowledge, even if he doesn’t fully understand what it means. And Jesus, in turn, does something that is extraordinary, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first, when he tells Peter that he will “give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”
What did Jesus mean when he says that he would give the keys to Simon Peter? As Catholics we see in this the office of the Pope, but what else do the keys symbolize?
Well, think about what keys are used for? To unlock something. And why is something locked? To protect it. So to be entrusted with keys is to be entrusted with the responsibility of protecting something; or in this case, someone. Us. Keys are less about authority than they are about responsibility. And we will see Jesus give the responsibility of the keys for protecting the fledgling Christians to Simon Peter in the last chapter of John’s Gospel.
Finally why would Jesus command his disciples to not tell anyone he was the Christ? Two reasons. First, the disciples do not yet fully understand what it means for Jesus to be the Christ. They might think they know him, but they still only know about him. He isn’t done teaching them yet and since the image of the Christ in Jewish eyes was one of an earthly kingdom, he needs for them to get to know him better before they will understand what the Kingdom of God is.
Secondly and maybe more importantly, he wants others to figure it out themselves. When we look throughout all of Scripture, we see God reveal himself to His chosen people a variety of ways – through His prophets; through the signs and wonders of Nature; and most importantly, through the words and actions of His Son.
You see, in the eyes of God, we are not only individuals, but a people. Not “people”, but “A People”. Why is that important? Because we experience immortality as a people, as Christians. The Body of Christ needs to KNOW who it is.
And that brings us back to the question, “Who Am I?” We are, first and foremost, children of God. Second, we are members of the Body of Christ and one – in unity with Christians everywhere – in the Lord. Just as we need to know and care for our physical body for our well-being, we must know and care for the rest of the entire Body of Christ for our - and its - spiritual well-being.
Pope Francis said that in order to know Jesus, “what is needed is not a study of notions but rather a life as a disciple.”
Can I say that I am a disciple?
Who do you say that YOU are?