Friday, August 28th, 2020

‘Quem me esse dicitis?’ A Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday per Annum

But whom do you say that I am (Matthew 16, 15)

We just heard, you and I, the most important question in human history: ‘Whom do men say that the Son of man is?’[1] It is not public opinion, nor interest rates, nor scientific advances, nor even presidential elections that make history to be what it is. Rather, what constitutes the most fundamental question of history is the identity of Jesus Christ. Some believe him to be one sage among many of history’s religious founders. Or he is the irrelevant founder of a sect. To some he is a madman or a political agitator; either way the Romans seem to have made short work of him. Of all the answers that can be proposed, however, only one will be correct.

The Gospel account proves this. Note well how many different answers were given: ‘Some say John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.’ But then Christ makes the question personal. Turning to the disciples he says: ‘But whom do you say that I am?’ Vos autem quem me esse dicitis? St Peter, taught by God the Father, gives the correct answer: ‘Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Tu es Christus Filius Dei vivi. 

Thus, you and I are here today because we give the same answer as St Peter. And indeed, we might well define the Church as that body of men, women, and children who take Jesus Christ for who he demonstrated himself to be: the unique Savior of men; the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity; God-made-flesh. ‘You are Christ, the Son of the living God.’

But there is more. For you and I, the question of Christ’s identity is not answered once and only once. True enough, that in our daily life, we have the occasional opportunity to speak to others on behalf of Christ and what it all means for those of us in his Church. That is, we may have to witness before our friends or families, and, as St Peter says, to give a reason of the hope that is in us.[2]

And yet the question is more profound still. You and I, it turns out, have the daily—sometimes hourly—task of asserting Christ’s true identity in our life. But how do I mean this? Some examples are in order.

When you are tempted to lie, do you believe that Christ is the one who says, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’?[3] If we choose to lie, then we show that we do not believe Christ to be who he is. When we lie, it is as if we say, ‘Christ, you are not the truth; instead, I am; I shall be truth.’ On the contrary, when we tell the truth, it is as if we say, ‘Yes, Christ: you are the way and the truth; I will allow you to be the truth in my life.’

If we refuse to help those who are in need, we do not believe that Christ is the one who says, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me.’[4] On the other hand, if we practice the works of mercy, we are saying that, indeed, I will serve Christ, who identifies himself with those who are made least by their hardships.

If we sin against chastity, we refuse to acknowledge Christ who says, ‘Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God,’[5] or ‘if thy eye scandalize thee, pluck it out. It is better for thee with one eye to enter into the kingdom of God, than having two eyes to be cast into the hell of fire.’[6] On the contrary, if we live chastely, we demonstrate that Christ is the source of all purity.

If we are proud, we ought to recall that Christ is the one who says, ‘Because every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted;’[7] and ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’[8] And in times when we are tempted to covet money or other material goods, we do well to ask whether we will believe Christ who says, ‘You cannot serve God and mammon.’[9]

Examples could easily be multiplied. But you see that what we do is ultimately connected with who we believe Jesus Christ is. Which is precisely why the moral life is not simply about following rules. Indeed, the good God has given us commandments. The Church, too, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, has instituted various disciplines and liturgical laws. But all these serve the purpose of allowing Christ to be active in our lives and to allow him to be who he is.

In conclusion, when we choose to sin, we exclude God from our midst, denying in no uncertain terms his very identity. On the contrary, when we choose good and avoid evil, we are allowing God to be God. Please God we may always have the grace to be in St Peter’s company, who knows Christ for who he is: Tu es Christus fili Dei vivi. In the meantime, the question confronts ourselves and our very culture: ‘Whom do you say that I am?’ Everything depends upon the answer we make.


[1] Matthew 13, 13.

[2] Cf 1 Peter 3, 15.

[3] John 14, 6.

[4] Matthew 25, 40.

[5] Matthew 5, 8.

[6] Mark 9, 47.

[7] Luke 14, 11.

[8] Matthew 22, 15.

[9] Matthew 6, 24.

{Art Credit: detail, Head of Christ (1521), Correggio; The Getty, Los Angeles.}

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