August 25, 2023

Christ the Cornerstone

The question that Jesus asks each of us to answer

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

In the Gospel reading for this weekend, the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus poses a direct question that every baptized Christian must answer in his or her own words:

Jesus 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” (Mt 16:13-16 ).

“Who do you say that I am?” is the question Jesus asks each one of us. Our answers determine both our relationship to him and our ability to follow him faithfully. Who is Jesus in my life? Is he a friend and brother? Is he my sovereign Lord, the one to whom I owe absolute devotion and obedience? Is he my Redeemer who has saved me from the powers of sin and death?

The disciples’ initial response was non-committal. They reported what others were saying. Some said John the Baptist. Others said Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Only Peter takes a firm stand: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). As a result, Jesus praises Peter and entrusts him with the sacred duty to lead his Church and to make binding decisions on Earth as in heaven:

Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt 16:17-19).

Peter is not wise or learned. He is not a man of wealth or social status. He is a simple fisherman, but he is clearly a good man who has opened his mind and heart to the Word of God. What God the Father has revealed to Peter changes his life forever. It will also change the world.

In this Sunday’s second reading (Rom 11: 33-36), St. Paul exclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” (Rom 11:33). We might express the same utter amazement in response to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say the Son of Man is?”

God the Father has given us the great gift of his only Son through the action of the Holy Spirit, and we have been empowered to proclaim this good news to the ends of the Earth. Can it really be true that we have been allowed to see the face of God in Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the living God”? And even more amazing, that we have been invited to join with Peter and all the disciples in building Christ’s Church here on Earth throughout the whole world until the end of time?

St. Paul acknowledges that God’s plan for each of us and for the whole world is far beyond our comprehension. “For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?

Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom 11:34-36).

Pope Benedict XVI once wrote that for Christians the only acceptable answer to Jesus’ question is a profound but simple declaration (like Peter’s) that affirms Jesus as “the meaning of my life and of the world.”

If Jesus is not the fundamental center of my own life, there is no way that I can effectively proclaim him as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” to others. If we cannot give witness to Christ as the meaning of own lives, then belief in him is relative. Like the original disciples, all we can do is report what other people say: “Jesus is a good man, a prophet, a healer or an inspiring preacher.”

But Jesus asks much more from us. He asks us to declare with our whole mind and heart and strength that he is God, the meaning of our lives and of the world. There should be nothing noncommittal about our response to the Lord’s question. He is either everything to us (the center of our being) or he is merely incidental (on the fringes of our lives).

When we hear this Gospel proclaimed this weekend, let’s respond boldly: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” †

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