The ancient philosopher Socrates had opined that “unexamined life is not worth living”. Jesus in today’s Gospel tried to find out from his disciples the people’s hunches about him. They informed him that people had diverse opinions which included that he may have been John the Baptist or Elijah, or one of the ancient prophets come back to life. The people’s hunches about Jesus were like the Indian story about the six blind men who went to experience an elephant; while each one thought that the elephant was either a tree, or a wall, or a spear, or a big snake, or a rope, or a big fan depending upon which part of the elephant’s body they had touched, none of the individual experiences of the blind men encompassed what elephant was.
Similarly, Jesus felt that the people’s hunches about him was grossly inadequate, so he tried to extract the missing link from his disciples by asking them, “’But you…who do you say I am?’” Peter responded to Jesus that, “You are the Christ.”
We know from the bible and the teachings of the Church that Jesus is Lord, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and the Messiah. However, we must still answer individually Jesus’ question, “who do you say I am?” This is a fundamental question. There is an urgency to shift from an intellectual articulation of Jesus to a personal experience of him. Just as the people of Israel were asked in the Old Testament to transition from a theoretical knowledge of God, as the Creator, to God who they must love with all their heart, soul, and strength.
Our personal experience of Jesus as our Lord and Messiah would automatically translate to our wanting to make a positive difference in the world as Jesus did. The classical doctrinal difference between the Catholics and the Reformist, whether we are saved only by our faith in Jesus Christ, or saved through our work, disappear. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, comforted the down-trodden and sacrificed his life for our salvation. Our faith in Jesus will spur us to action as St James urged in the second Reading, “Take the case, my brothers, of someone who has never done a single good act but claims that he has faith. Will that faith save him? Surely not, faith without good works is dead because it is not faith at all.”
Just as Mary of the Cross Mackillop said, “never see a need without doing something about it.” We cannot turn a blind eye to the needs of our brothers and sister when we can make a difference in their lives and say that we have faith in Jesus. St James demonstrated this vividly when he rhetorically asked, “If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty,’ without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that?
Our faith in Jesus channels us toward social justice – to lift people out of poverty and to be a voice for the voiceless. The first Reading and the Gospel bring to our awareness that we may face some challenges as we set out to do good. There are enemies of progress who would like to place hurdles in our way to stop us from helping our brothers and sisters in need. We must not allow evil to triumph.
Jesus asks us, as his disciples, to carry our cross daily and follow him. He is one with us in all things but sin, (Heb 4:15), and he died on the cross for our justification. Let us, like him, continue to manifest our faith in positive actions.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp