Knowing Jesus with conviction

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XXIV-B in Ordinary Time, 12 September 2021
Isaiah 50:5-9 ><]]]]'> James 2:14-18 ><]]]]'> Mark 8:27-35
Photo by author, Parish of St. Joseph, Baras, Rizal (January 2021).

Last Wednesday as we celebrated the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a friend told me how on the eve of that feast her eldest son Andrei expressed to her his wish to gift Mama Mary with a cake but did not know how to get to heaven. “Bibili ko sana siya ng cake, mommy, pero paano ako mapupunta sa langit?”

My friend simply told her son how difficult it is to get into heaven because he has to get so many ladders to get there and see Mama Mary and Jesus.

What a beautiful question from a child filled with innocence, “how do we get into heaven?”

Ironically, it is a question we all know the answer but do not care nor take seriously for many reasons, primarily because of fear until this pandemic hit us, forcing us into facing again this reality of death – of going into heaven.

In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches us how we can get into heaven by knowing him truly with conviction, not just according to our own or somebody else’s thinking and ideas of him as the Christ.

Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he 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?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Christ.” Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.

Mark 8:27-31

Other’s opinion vs. my conviction

When we look at the gospel of Mark as a whole, we find it is a step-by-step revelation of who is Jesus Christ, following certain stages in his stories. Notice since the beginning Mark has been telling us how the people including the Twelve were asking among themselves who was Jesus for he spoke with authority that even the sea and the wind obeyed him while demons cried when exorcised by him. People were so amazed at his great powers, both in words and in deeds that everybody was getting near him to know him.

Photo by author, St. Catherine Monastery at Sinai, Egypt (May 2019)

It is at Caesarea Philippi where Mark’s gospel reaches the middle section, a turning point when Jesus reveals himself in stages.

From here on, Mark will take a faster pace in his narration and revelation of who is Jesus now making a U-turn from Caesarea Philippi to head towards Jerusalem to face his death. We too are expected to make a U-turn in our knowledge of Jesus, from mere opinions of others to a personal conviction of who Jesus is.

Observe the step-by-step manner by Jesus in revealing himself to his disciples at Caesarea Philippi.

First, Jesus surveyed the Twelve, asking them “Who do people say that I am?”.

Feel the uncertainty among them while telling Jesus what they have heard the people saying: John the Baptist? Elijah? One of the prophets?

We find a tinge of being unsure even in themselves in what to tell the Lord because they have also heard the questions and accusations by the scribes and Pharisees against their young teacher. “Kabado sila” as we say in Filipino.

But to their surprise, Jesus came up with a second question directly to each one of them at point blank, requiring a deep, personal conviction and commitment: “But who do you say that I am?”.

Like at Capernaum after the bread of life discourse when everybody left Jesus led by his disciples, here he is asking the Twelve -including us – again for a faith decision, to say what we really feel and think about him, without repeating what we have heard from others or read from any book.

Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Christ.” See in this statement by Peter the clear difference from the people’s opinions of Jesus. Feel the conviction of Peter in declaring “you are the Christ.” There must have been something he had experienced deep within that he felt Jesus so real, so new, so alive – not just any prophet from old who had come back but in fact the very one referred to by the prophets before!

Jesus is clearly distinct and different from what we have heard and read, so personal and so true. As we would usually tell others of how convinced we are of someone or something, “ah, basta!” which is akin to Archimedes’ “eureka” experience.

Like at Caesarea Philippi, our lives get on a turning point significantly once we have had that kind of experience of who Jesus Christ is. We can never grow deep in our faith in him and experience him personally without that Caesarea Philippi experience.

However, it is not everything. Even Peter would falter immediately after this turning point.

He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Mark 8:32-33
Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Quiapo, January 2020.

Christ’s pedagogy of the Cross

It is not enough that we set aside sometimes what others say or write about Jesus; we also have to discard and forget whatever we have entertained in our minds and hearts on who Jesus could be. In telling Peter to “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do”, Jesus is telling us too that it is still a long way to go for us to truly know him.

Remember that in Jewish thought, to know someone is to have a relationship, an intimacy with the other person. Although the disciples have already taken a great step in knowing Jesus as the Christ following Peter’s confession that is so distinct from what others say, such knowledge leads us to the hardest and most difficult stage of knowing Jesus through his Cross.

It is can also be the most painful stage in truly knowing Jesus that is why he warned them not to tell anyone about him like what Peter realized that he reacted that way. Of course, we also know how Peter got to know Jesus more in the most painful way when he denied knowing the Lord thrice on the night he was arrested leading to Good Friday.

Remember, the more we get to know Jesus, the more we experience him so real in our lives, the more we follow him, the more the devil confuses us, the more the devil feeds us with so many thoughts or sends us with people like those in this Administration and politicians now campaigning with grand designs, with great intentions for Jesus and for the poor when in fact detract us from the path of the Cross.

Notice how Jesus insisted in his first prediction of his Passion, Death and Resurrection at Caesarea Philippi that “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” There is always that qualifier “must” in suffering and pain with Jesus for there is no shortcut nor easy way to get to heaven, to be holy, to be fulfilled in this life which is so unlike the promises of the devil acting in our selfish thoughts or among our politicians and government officials.

Jesus himself had shown us in his Passion, Death, and Resurrection the key to truly knowing him is to have a complete trust in the Father like him as the Servant referred to in the first reading from Isaiah who bore all insults and beatings but never felt disgraced because “the Lord God is my help.”

For so long in our country, many have been duped by politicians who have promised the people of a wonderful life minus sufferings by just electing them into office. All these miseries and misfortunes we are into show us clearly that hardly do we really know who is Jesus Christ as we keep on putting into office people we hardly know as demons in many disguises.

During this pandemic when we have so much time to reflect and pray, let us empty our hearts and minds, exorcise them of many evil thoughts to be penetrated by the divine thoughts found in the scriptures so we may know Jesus clearly, love him dearly, and follow him closely with our lives of faith expressed in works of charity as James exhorts us in the second reading.

It is the clearest sign that we truly know Jesus when our faith in him bears much fruits in works of charity and mercy. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by author, close-up shot of the Seventh Station of the Cross at St. Ildephonsus Parish, Tanay, Rizal (January 2021). Notice one of the men wearing shades believed to be Caiaphas, the chief priest during the time of Jesus; we have to remove our shades to truly know Jesus especially when there are trials and sufferings in life. See our article, https://lordmychef.com/2021/02/04/road-trip-in-time-of-covid-19-the-company-we-keep-in-lifes-journey/

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