Homily given September 19th, 2015
The first and only question of theology is asked today by Christ: Who do people say that I am? It is a question that the world asks us today. Who is Jesus? Is He a socio-political figure? Is He a teacher? A philosopher? A revolutionary? A savior? A prophet? A madman? Who do people say that the Son of Man is? We’ve all been a party to this debate. We’ve all seen documentaries, news specials, social media quotes and rants, blog articles, or been in conversations with our family or friends, all of which, ostensibly, seek to provide an answer to this question. It is that important. The answer to this question is more important than the question of man’s existence. It is more significant than: what are we doing here? If the question of who Christ is cannot answered properly then nothing else matters, and the universe itself has no meaning.
The Apostles indicate that the people of that time certainly thought Jesus was significant. John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets were not some no-name figures. These were some of the most important people in the history of Israel. Yet all of these answers fell short. It is much the same for us today. Jesus is presented to us in the ‘educated’ mindset as a great religious figure who teaches an enlightened worldview filled with love and tolerance like Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, or Siddhārtha Gautama (the first Buddha), but qualitatively no different from these men. To some, Jesus is a prophet, born of a virgin, but in no way divine, who will return at the end of the world. Still, others believe that he is the messiah, and is kind-of divine, but not as divine as the Father. One thing most people do actually agree on, even atheists, is that there was probably a Galilean Rabbi in the first century named Jesus, and that he was probably crucified by the Romans.
Christ asks the nature of the perception of the common people of him because, according to Chrysostom:
Though their opinion concerning Christ was much below what it ought to have been, yet it was free from willful wickedness.
The common people had seen his miracles. They’d heard his words, and heard in them his authority and power. The common people were eye-witnesses to those things which he had done, and they had a simplistic view of his person. In other words, they saw his works and heard his words, but they did not know Him.
To those who knew Him and been with Him, He asks the same question. Simon answers on behalf of the others, on behalf of the Church: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God! This is the proclamation on which the Church is built. This is the foundation of the entire cosmos. This is the universal summation of all reality. Cyril of Alexandria writes:
In calling him Son of the living God, Peter indicates that Christ himself is life and that death has no authority over him.
Christ is God, the Logos, and Son; the second Person of the Trinity. He is Life itself. In His own Person He holds all things together.
Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things, who has marked us with His image is the only One who has descended from heaven and ascended back again. He is the One who is lifted up and draws all men to Himself. Christ comes to unite the realm of creation to her Creator. He Himself is the altar upon which the Sacrifice is offered. He is the Sacrifice which is offered, and the One who receives the Sacrifice. Jesus Christ is the Author and Source of life. He is the goal and content of Life. When the question is asked, what is life for? The answer is Christ. He is our life, our hope, our moving and breathing. Christ is our existence, salvation and resurrection. He is our victory over death and the passions. Jesus Christ is our communion with God Himself.
He is the uniquely-begotten of the Father, and He does not come to condemn the world, but to save us all, becoming sin for us and nailing our infirmities, sins, and corruptions to the Cross. As the Crucified One, He comes to kill the passions in us, and end our enslavement to them. And herein lies the rub, so-to-speak, when we ask the modern world the question, “Who is Jesus?” To the world that does not know him, he is considered a great many things. The Scriptures are twisted and contorted to justify things that are not justifiable. The words of Jesus are simultaneously used to condemn people enslaved to sin while at the same time encouraging and promoting not only acceptance of that same enslavement but glorifying it and rejecting Christ’s Incarnation and death to free us from it.
You see, dear ones, we cannot know Christ outside of the Cross. When apologists in the culture wars use Christ to promote or attack a position, they fall short, forgetting this all-important facet of the knowledge of God. To them Christ is either judgement or tolerance. If, in my heart, I even think people who are enslaved to sin are deserving of condemnation then I cannot rightly say that I know God. Conversely if I believe in my heart that obvious sin is not sin and that those who struggle with it are not enslaved to the passions, and there is no need for them to change, then I cannot rightly say that I know God.
Both of these mindsets fail to come to Christ through the Cross. They are ultimately the same because they both choose to deny the reality of the Cross: that the God-man, the union of divine and human, carried our passions and corruptions to the Cross, and killed them there. Many of us struggle to articulate who Christ is because, deep down we don’t really know Him. We rely on platitudes, and not experiential knowledge.
But there is good news for us today. Our Lord has come; our Lord is come, and our Lord is coming. We are given the grace to participate in the life-creating death and resurrection of Christ. As Christ was made known to the Apostles after they encountered Him on the way to Emmaus by the opening of the Scriptures and the breaking of bread, so too Christ becomes known to us now. We have heard the Scriptures within the liturgy of the people, and in a few moments bread and wine will be offered. They will be blessed, hallowed, and broken (in the case of the bread), and given to us as the very Body and Blood of Christ.
In these things we will proclaim, as Peter did, that “You are the Christ; the Son of the Living God.” And we will know Him. And in knowing Him, we will have life. As Christ says in the Gospel of John (EOB):
This is eternal life: that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ.
To know Christ is to know God, and today, now, He reveals Himself to us. Let us give glory, honor, and worship to the One who makes Himself known to us, together with His Father, who is without beginning, and His most Holy and Life-creating Spirit, now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.