Sunday Scripture readings, Aug. 23, 2020
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Is 22:19-23
Psalm 138:1-3, 6, 8
2) Rom 11:33-36
Gospel: Mt 16:13-20
Like any good teacher, Jesus challenges us
Jesus, the Son of God, was a master teacher. In the four Gospels, the title “teacher” is given to Jesus some 50 times. Jesus taught large crowds, small groups of disciples and the religious and political leaders of his day.
And when Jesus taught, his words did not convey abstract and speculative truths but pointed to the living mystery of God, his heavenly Father, who Jesus revealed so we might be reconciled to friendship with God.
Jesus was a convincing, persuasive teacher because his words and parables could not be separated from his life and identity. As St. John Paul II observed in “On Catechesis in Our Time,” “the whole of Christ’s life was a continual teaching: His silences, his miracles, his gestures, his prayer, his love for people, his special affection for the little and the poor, his acceptance of the total sacrifice on the cross for the redemption of the world and his resurrection are the actualization of his word and the fulfillment of revelation” (No. 9).
As a master teacher, Jesus opened paths of faith in his divine identity and saving mission. And among his teaching methods was the use of questions, as we read in today’s Gospel. Jesus’ questions were not delivered as a teacher’s test or surprise quiz but as invitations to a radically transformed life in him.
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus’ first question elicited various opinions circulating about him in Caesarea Philippi. Some mistook him for John the Baptist, others thought he was a prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah. These were ways to approach Jesus from an outsider or spectator perspective.
Jesus did not stop there. Like a good teacher he invites his disciples, and us, to walk on their own personal path of deeper reflection on his further question, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter responds with faith in Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God. Peter’s response of faith is the foundation of the church’s response of faith in Jesus.
We might say that this is the central question of the entire New Testament. Everything depends on how I answer this fundamental question of Jesus. For what I believe about Jesus’ identity is the most consequential truth of my life. How I respond personally to the question that Jesus poses to me — “Who do you say that I am?” is the foundation of Christian faith.
The spiritual life is a gradual, lifelong journey of faith when we come to know and live in the mystery of who Jesus is. The daily life of a disciple of Jesus is the unfolding response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” For the wisdom to respond in faith to the question of Jesus, the master teacher, I pray, “speak to me, Lord.”
What is your response to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?”
Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.