Jesus and St Peter, Annibale Caracci  (1560–1609), 1602; National Gallery, London

Fr Neil’s homily for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, 12 September 2021

Who do you say that I am?¹

Jesus’ question in our gospel elicits from Peter his great confession “You are the Christ.” It is this great confession that reveals the will of the Father for Peter. He was to become the rock upon which the Church would be built.

While Christ accepts the title and role of anointed Messiah of God, he quickly wishes to reveal and clarify the nature of his messianic mission. Almost exclusively the anointed messiah was viewed as the one who would bring liberation to God’s people. This was limited to the hope of ridding the land of pagan gentile rule and establishing a new glorious Davidic kingdom that all nations would eventually acknowledge and honour.

However, Christ does the extraordinary and unique thing of linking the Messianic role with the “suffering servant” passages from Isaiah, as in our first reading:

I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.²

Christ teaches his disciples that the Son of Man, the Messiah, must suffer and die. This made absolutely no sense to the disciples as ‘The Christ’ was known to be a triumphant, victorious figure, not a suffering one. Is it any surprise that Peter reacted in the manner he did? His whole worldview, hopes and expectations had just been turned upside down.

The confusion and misunderstanding of what Christ was teaching them would last until the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Christ’s revelation was that the way of triumph and the new Kingdom of God could only be accessed via giving up of one’s own life by embracing the cross.

And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”³

Christ the Messiah has come to liberate humanity from something far greater than some pagan occupying force which is but a symptom of the real enemy, sin and death. We are all born into the fallen world inherited from Adam and to remain captured by that world, which has already fallen under the judgement of God, is to stay alienated from God in spiritual death. It is the Cross and our dying with Christ that enables us to rise with him and be released from the fallen world. We are in him being born again as a citizen of heaven into our true liberation.

If we acknowledge our Lord to be the Christ, Son of the living God, then to follow him is only possible if we take up our cross, which is by its very nature the narrow and hard way. Answering the question of our Lord cannot remain mere novel philosophical and theological speculation but a life time of conversion and transformation. Our response cannot be a matter of words only.

This question of our Lord, “Who do you say that I am?” is the most fundamental and important question that we will ever answer. The answer we give will shape the rest of our lives whether we remain or move back into the fallen world or seek to claim our citizenship of heaven.

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.⁴

There was an old poster with a picture of a judge on it that asked the question: “If it was illegal to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Is going to Church, essential though it is, enough? There were many who went to church in the old Soviet bloc, and who go to church in China, who are not real Christian but informants for the State. We say the Creed each week but do we actually believe it?

The ongoing debate in the Epistle of James is the relationship between faith and works. James argues that a declared faith without any outward sign of transformation is meaningless nonsense.

But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.⁵

To believe is to revere, honour, trust and commit oneself to that which we confess. It is no surprise then that Christ asks this question of his disciples at this pivotal moment and outlines the consequences of those who positively seek to follow him. That very same question our Lord continues to ask of us: “Who do you say that I am?”

¹ Mark 8:29
² Isaiah 50:6
³ Mark 8:34–35
⁴ Matthew 7:13–14
⁵ James 2:18

There was no homily published on 5 September 2021 due to Fr Neil’s holiday.