Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 16, 2018)

Jesus asks a disarming question: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples answer with comments they have heard about Jesus. Then Jesus asks his real question, the penetrating question that will live forever. Who do you say that I am? Peter steps up and answers with the title that is correct: “You are the Christ,” “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, “messiah,” “the anointed one.” Messiah has more than one meaning. Many, probably most, thought it indicated the one who would free Israel from roman rule, be triumphant in a this-world understanding of messiah.

Jesus tried to correct their understanding with an otherworld understanding as the “son of man.” He, the suffering servant, said he would suffer. Die. And rise in his mission of representing his father to all as love incarnated.

Peter, perhaps still a little high from hearing Jesus’ kudos for coming up with the right title, took Jesus aside to “talk” to him, perhaps get Jesus to put some spin on this horrific sounding statement about suffering, death, and rising.

But, Jesus would not budge from his own explanation of “messiah.” He states that peter must not try to lead him. Peter’s role is to follow him: “get behind me.” He calls him a “Satan,” for he is trying to divert divine design – a satanic ploy tried by Satan before his public ministry began.

Jesus’ question, “who do you say that I am’ calls for an ongoing, evolving answer from each of us during the course of our lives. Our answers are at first limited by our very immature, spiritual vision. When very, very young we probably would have answered: “Baby Jesus.” Our answer must change as we mature. Hopefully, we who have reached at least confirmation age will move beyond that answer. We may, still later, answer that Jesus is “the understanding teacher from Nazareth,” we may move on in our difficult times to see Jesus as “the good shepherd.” Hopefully, we will evolve to image Jesus as unconditional love, incarnated. We come to understand his deep compassion for those suffering in body or spirit. He heals on the Sabbath if that is when the sick present themselves. No foolish, pharisaical prohibitions stop him when the Pharisees accuse him of doing forbidden work on the Sabbath.

In our maturity we listen to, understand, and act on Jesus’ admonition that we, like Jesus be intolerant of religious leaders who would hypocritically distort the father’s love into precepts that have no part in compassion.

May each of us evolve toward the fullness of the vision of Jesus’ unconditional love for his father and for all. We may not just bask in that love. We need to come to understand that unconditional love calls for our response just as it called for Jesus’ response to our father.

That response calls us to be servants, not masters in our relationships. Servants do not seek the first places in social gatherings; do not seek honor or recognition. Servants serve! When his thousands of followers were without food, he served their hungry stomachs with loaves of bread and their staple food, fish. When their minds and spirits hungered for wisdom, he served them the bread of wisdom. Ever the servant, he gave example of how we are to serve and work. When time for instruction was running out, he got down on his knees at the last supper and washed his disciples’ feet – the work of a servant.

As we mature, we see the hypocrisy of those who call themselves “public servants” and serve themselves generously and let the people who elected them suffer and pay for their “perks.” As we mature, we see the hypocrisy of those who call themselves “servants of the servants of god” and then act imperiously and dress as princes with rings and things – not as servants – and investigate those who honestly seek otherworld values.

And the good news is that when we become discouraged at hearing answers and responses other than “messiah-servant” answers and responses, when we see power abused, we have the great consolation of coming home to our parish community and celebrate Eucharist together, here at the table of the Lord.