From the Pastor – September 16, 2012

Along the way Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:27b-29a)

Very few people deny the historical reality that there was a man named Jesus who lived in the first century and died by crucifixtion. However, throughout history men have argued about the identity of Jesus. Jewish people traditionally see Him as “false Messiah.” The Muslims call Him a “prophet.” Atheists might acknowledge His historical existence and even recognize the beauty of some of His teachings (“Love your neighbor as yourself”), but label Him as simply a delusional inspiration. Even among some so-called “Christians,” Jesus might be reduced to a “holy man,” or a “great teacher.”

This week, Jesus asks His first followers the most important question they will ever be asked: “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter responds: “You are the Christ.” And as Catholic Christians we follow that confession of Peter. We are the people who say that Christ is more than just a holy man, more than a great teacher, more than a prophet who announces God’s words, more than an inspiration. We are the people who confess, with Peter, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. This is the faith that brings us together: Jesus is the Son of God, who not only announces the words of God, but is the Word of God. And that reality is our faith in Christ, which must be more than the confession of our mouth. It must be something confessed by our lives. In the second reading, St. James makes a distinction between dead faith and living faith: “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” If faith remains a theory that doesn’t affect our hearts, our hands, and our choices, then it is dead and has “no power to save us.”

But the stark reality of the Messiah is lost on Peter. He thinks the Messiah will come as a great king to free the Jewish people from their Roman oppressors. And that’s why Jesus has to rebuke Peter. Jesus has come for something much bigger. He has come to free mankind from its ancient oppressor, the devil himself. And the means by which He is to do so is to suffer, die and rise from the dead. The means of our salvation is the wood of the cross. One tree in the Garden of Eden got us into the mess we’re in, and the wood of the cross is the means by which we’re saved.

Rev. Msgr. Christopher H. Nalty