It is not “what” we say who Jesus is but “how” we say who he is.

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXI, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 23 August 2020
Isaiah 22:19-23 | >><}}}*> | Romans 11:33-36 | >><}}}*> | Matthew 16:13-20
Photo by author at Caesarea, Israel, May 2019.

After showing us some glimpses of the person of the Lord these past three weeks, St. Matthew now leads us into the middle of his gospel where Jesus takes a U-turn in his ministry by revealing himself to the Twelve as he heads back to Jerusalem to fulfill his mission.

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” Then he strictly ordered the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Matthew 16:13-17, 20

St. Matthew told us last Sunday how Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon where he had healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman tormented by a demon. From there, they headed north to Caesarea Philippi, a pagan major city at that time.

It was a perfect setting for our gospel this Sunday – just like our present milieu that challenges us not only to be identified as a Christian but also to make a stand for Jesus as his true disciple at a time when faith and morals are disregarded, economics takes precedence over spirituality.

Who do people say I am: “what” I know of Jesus

The two questions posed by Jesus to his disciples while at Caesarea Phillip – and to us today – may sound very similar and even simple but are actually distinctly different and even worlds apart from each other.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

His first question “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” is straightforward, seems to demand not much critical thinking and introspection. A plain question with a plain answer like the usual news we hear and read called “straight reporting” in journalism that tells us the essential “who, what, where, and when” of the story.

So many times, we face this question without even being asked at all!

Through our words and actions we reveal “who do you say the Son of Man is?” in how we pray, what we pray for, the things we post on social media, especially those electronic chain letters that if you say “Amen” you will get money. And so many other things when we try to show everyone we know Jesus without really thinking and reflecting well. No wonder, people get so many wrong impressions about who Jesus is: “some say he is John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah” or one of those prophets of wealth and health who make life easier!

Telling who Jesus Christ from “what” we know and believe can always be dangerous and misleading because it is all in our heads that could often be wrong. Telling who Jesus Christ from “what” we know and believe cannot be so reliable because it is always mechanical, by the book, not actual and most of all, not real.

It is always easy to speak highly of Jesus from “what” we know and believe like those many preachers with fire and brimstone or modern apostles, a.k.a. vloggers complete with their “shock” preaching and antics and gimmicks who end up more popular with thousands of followers and likes. And wealthy, too! Jesus Christ? Forgotten and stuck in Facebook, the bible, and tabernacle.

But who do you say I am: “how” I know Jesus

On the other hand, the Lord’s second question is direct and personal, probing our heart and soul, asking not just for answer from our lips but from our total self: “But who do you say that I am?”

See the words of the Lord after Simon had answered he is the Christ, the Son of the living God:

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”

Matthew 16:17

More than a play of words, here we find a deeper dimension of saying who Jesus Christ is: not just telling the what but most of all, the how that reveals more than what we know in our minds but how we have experienced Jesus, of how we have been living in him!

Photo by author, house at Jaffa (Jopa), Israel where Peter met some gentiles according to Book of Acts, May 2017.

For us to say who is Jesus Christ is always a how because it is a story of our relationship with him, it is a how we have grown deeper, how we have journeyed in him and with him.

It is the ability to see beyond structures and persons, excesses and sins, faults and misgivings because despite shortcomings, it is how we see Jesus as the foundation of our lives and of our Church.

See the ways of other religious sects, their pastors and members who spend so much time bashing us Catholics, insisting on the what of Jesus and the bible, never the how they live.

No wonder, they can raise their hands in prayers and still clap their hands while the President in maligning us Catholic priests and bishops in their gatherings.

To speak of who is Jesus is more than to tell what we know about him but how we have known him, how we have been since knowing him!

Anyone who can say who Jesus is from his how is always blessed like Simon because our answer is always the fruit of our life in Christ. We all become like Simon, another Peter or Rock whose very life and existence rests on Jesus our Lord. Despite our weaknesses and sinfulness, we are still blessed and entrusted with the keys of heaven because we have allowed Jesus to be our foundation of life. There is a process, a history always. Hence, it is a telling of the how.

In the first reading, we find God dismissing the master of the palace named Shebna to be replaced by Eliakim due to his infidelity. That is the meaning of the whole prophecy by Isaiah, of how the Lord will someday entrust his people to a trustworthy steward, someone who does not only know what God is but one who has truly known and experienced God.

Saying who God is, always a revelation from him

It is interesting that in the Jewish thought, to know another person is not knowing the what but of having a relationship or some degree of intimacy. Again, it speaks of the how we have been saying.

St. Paul shows us in the most beautiful manner in his many writings this saying of who Jesus is with his how, his very personal experience of the Lord in his life that has continued and deepened until his death. See the beautiful hymn he had composed for our second reading today:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:33, 36

Like St. Peter, we find here St. Paul so blessed despite his sins and sinfulness, of how he had experienced Christ not just a name or a man like any what he had known in his mind.

No one can ever write such great poetry with profound thoughts without any deep relationship with God. Whatever we know of God is always a revelation from him, too. When we speak of who God is, it is always borne out of how we have been relating with him our Lord which is called “spirituality”; it is deeper than religiosity or being religious that is always at the level of the head and more of our ego than of the reality of God.

Sometimes, we do not even have to speak and say who Jesus Christ is.

We simply have to live out that relationship we have in him and people would know who Jesus is. No need for elaborate and spectacular showmanships we have in our many rites and rituals, even in our liturgies now so maligned with our triumphalism.

Lest we forget, Jesus saved the world by suffering and dying on the Cross, not with activities and debates which would be his topic next Sunday. God bless everyone!

Photo by Angelo Carpio, January 2020

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