LIVING BY OUR IDENTITY: HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B).
– REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM PhD
This story caught my attention as I was reflecting on the readings. A young lady was driving along a high way after work. It was a rainy day and the night was creeping in prematurely due to the cloudy weather. Suddenly she felt a jerky jump from her car followed by a noise. She stopped! Alighting she discovered a flat tyre. Looking closely she discovered that the tyre had been punctured by a sharp object; she was indeed lucky the impact was not fatal to her. She was greatly shaken by the incidence because she had never changed a tyre in her whole life. In fact she was experiencing flat tyre for the first time in her driving life.
For twenty minutes she stood there wishing that someone could stop to assist her; but it seemed that people increased their speed upon spotting her by herself on that lonely and dangerous road; she could be a trap set by some high way robbers, some people may have reasoned. She practically lost hope and started trekking home gradually. She was surprised as one man stopped by her side and asked her what the problem was. For some seconds she could not find her voice, and when she did she could only mutter “mmmmh… my car!” Pointing to the car some distance behind her. The man offered to help her to change the tyre. It took him about ten minutes to remove the flat tyre and had the spare fixed. The car was good to go! The lady was so excited and happy that she asked the man to name any price at all. The man looked at her, shook his head and said: “my name is Christian and I am also a Christian I have just performed one of my duties. If you are a Christian do this for someone else, Christ did it for us without charge!” With these words he entered his car and drove off.
The lady became confused and overwhelmed. She wanted to know more about this strange benefactor on the high way of loneliness and abandonment. She even wanted to tell the man that they share a common name because her name was Christiana; but it was pretty late the man was almost out of sight. She gathered herself and drove off thinking about what had just happened. When she entered the town she decided to take her dinner at a restaurant by the gas station before heading home. After her meal she decided to take a shorter route to her house; she was scared of the high way. On her way, she saw a pregnant woman with a child walking down the road; they were obviously looking helpless. She wondered how a woman in such condition could be trekking under the wet weather with a child. She could have passed her but remembering how Christian stopped to assist her, she stopped to help the woman to her destination. By the time she got close to her house she opened her purse and brought out a bundle of currency and handed it to the woman and said: “Take this it will assist you to take care of yourself and the baby that is coming”. The woman was trying to refuse the offer when the lady said: “My name is Christiana and I am a Christian; I have just performed one of my duties and someone just did it for me free!” The lady (Christiana) was attentive to the telephone conversation the woman had with someone she believed was her husband. She gathered that the woman went to her former workplace to get her pay before her maternity but she was told she could not be paid on account of some problems with the company.
On getting home, the woman met her husband in a sad mood. He too had a bad day. He could not do his airport taxi business that day because his car had a mechanical complication which was fixed by evening and he had to go home without any income. On his way home he had helped a lady to fix her flat tyre though he refused to take money from the lady who was willing to give him a large sum. By the time Christian’s wife finished the story of her encounter with the good Samaritan lady, he came to realize that it was the same lady he helped that assisted the wife and even gave her a huge sum of money! Moreover he was touched by the fact that the woman used exactly the same words he used after assisting her! He was glad that the gospel he preached by his identity was fruitful and even to him.
Our seemingly long story could be cut short by asserting that it pays to live by our identity. In the gospel today (Mark 8:27-35) our Lord Jesus Christ did a kind of identity survey with his disciples by asking them two interrelated questions: “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” Firstly, an attentive reading will show that the answer is in the question. This is one of the places we encounter the phrase “I am”. When Moses inquired to know the name of God in case the people should ask him who sent him, God told him: “Tell them that I am sent you” (Ex 3:14). During the argument with the Jews Jesus told them among other things that “Before Abraham I am” (John 8:58). There are other “I am” statements: I am the way, the truth and the life. I am the light of the world, I am the gate to the Sheepfold” (In all these you can replace “I am” with “God is”). In any case, Jesus’ questions bore the answer because he is “I am” (God is). So the question actually should read: “Who do people say God is?”
Answering the question about the people’s speculations about the identity of Jesus, the disciples reported that some say he is John, others Elijah, other people still say one of the prophets. It is good to note that though the people did not get the real identity of Jesus Christ, they connected him with men of God of proven integrity and power. They did not relate him to any person of questionable character and history. On the part of the disciples’ identity analysis of Jesus Christ, Peter identified him as the Christ which in Hebrew is rendered as Messiah. In the account of Matthew (16:13-20), Peter got a price for the answer which according to our Lord was revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, we still recall that Andrew had already introduced Peter to Jesus as the Christ or Messiah in John (1:41).But for him to remember and profess it at the due moment was an act of the Holy Spirit. After Peter’s profession, our Lord went on to tell them the fate of the Messiah which included suffering, rejection and death not excluding resurrection after three days. Instantly Peter took the Lord aside and began to forbid him from taking that way, but our Lord rebuked Peter by saying: “Get behind me Satan your thoughts are man’s not God’s!”
There is need to explain this episode very well in connection with our theme: Living by our identity. Firstly, the Christ a.k.a the Messiah which also means the anointed one is identifiable as the one who is coming to save his people. This is explained very well in most of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament that are also confirmed in the New Testament. However, he was going to be an unusual messiah. He is one who is be born among animals (Luke 2:7), one who rides on a donkey (Zech.9:9), one who rules with fairness (Isaiah 9:7), one whose throne is the cross (Matt. 27:32ff), one whose crown is thorn (Matt. 27:29)], one who will be wounded for the sake of his subjects (Isaiah 53:5), one whose who rule will last forever (Luke 1:33). If we take a look at the first reading (Isaiah 50:5-9), we discover that the prophet was describing the identity of the Messiah which includes suffering followed by divine vindication. These were elements that formed the identity of the Messiah. Hence when Jesus was telling them about his fate, he was more or less telling them that he is going to live out his identity.
Peter on the other hand was telling him not to do so. Peter can be viewed as telling Jesus Christ: “answer the Christ; the Messiah but don’t carry out his mission”. It is like telling a medical doctor: “answer doc but don’t cure anyone!” Peter could not stay on the profession he made as he started to advice the Messiah not to live by his identity. It is a wonder that the Peter who confirmed Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) few minutes ago could turn around and ask him not to complete his Messianic mandate. Jesus was right to say “get behind me Satan” because it is only the devil that can make such a devastating suggestion.
Often we are reflective of the stance of Peter. We profess Christianity but we are not ready to activate the Christian life in practice. This is where the letter of James today draws relevance.”Faith without good works is dead”. In the same way Christianity without Christian life is useless” just as “faith without faithfulness is worthless”. To be a Christian is not just a name, it is a call into a life pattern; the life pattern of Christ. It is the life pattern of love and service to God and humanity. Do not allow any day to pass without living by your identity as a Christian. We are all Christians by identity but how many of us are ready to respond to the life of charity, fellow-feeling, forgiveness and trust in God which was Characteristic of the life of Christ? Like Christian and Christiana in our story today we are challenged to live by our identity just as our Lord activated his identity as the Christ (Messiah) till the end. The way and manner you activate your Christian faith will determine how people perceive; it will indicate who people take you to be: “that kind hearted man or woman” or “that heartless fool!”
May the word of God be activated in your life always. Happy Sunday and a blissful week ahead.