HOMILY FOR THE 21ST SUNDAY (YEAR A)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
Can you guess the one tangible thing that you possess, which no other person in the world has and which you cannot share with other person, even the closest people in your life? We could share our time, money, and properties with other people. We could also share vital body organs with our loved ones who are sick and in dire need. I know of a lady who donated one of her kidneys to her mom, and she was able to survive the close shave with death.
The thing that we possess, which makes us different from everyone in the world is our fingerprints. There are no two individuals in the world with the same fingerprints. Even hyper-identical twins do not have the same fingerprints; they give us a distinctive identity apart from helping us to feel and hold things.
Life would be complicated if there were no identities, that is why we have names, and other descriptions attached to our documents. Some identity dependent documents, we are required to provide our gender, height, weight, ethnicity, the color of eyes, and even next of kin.
The Gospel narrative of this Sunday (Matt. 16:13-20) tells us about our Lord’s discussion with his disciples about people’s opinions about his identity as well as their opinion about him. This question and answer session happened in the region of Caesarea Philippi, and we need to ask why?
Caesarea Philippi lies in the Northern region of Israel a few miles from Dan and sits at the foot of Mount Hermon. The area had a reputation for housing many pagan gods, especially the Greek god, Pan, which has the description of half-human and half-goat. Herod the Great named the place after Caesar and attached the name of his son Philip to it, so it became Caesarea Philippi.
Jesus chooses this location to ask the question about his identity for a reason, which we can see from the description above and the answer that Simon gives. According to the disciples, people thought Jesus to be John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. When Jesus inquired about their opinion about his identity Simon proclaimed that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Note that Christ is the anointed one, the messiah.
Because of the accurate answer, Jesus said to Simon, “you are blessed” because it was not flesh nor blood that revealed that to him but his heavenly Father. Consequently, he said that he is to be known as Peter, which means rock and that he would build his Church upon the rock and that the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against it. Furthermore, our Lord made a promise saying: “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”.
The gates netherworld, as used in the narrative, refers to the domain of darkness represented here by the Caesarea Philippi area, which housed cultic altars. St. Paul would later tell the Colossian (1:13) that God has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son.
Our Lord’s declaration to Simon Peter marks the spiritual inauguration of the Church, which will become full-blown on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and others who were present in the Upper Room (Acts 2:1ff).
Discovering the “Who” in “You”
Our Lord’s question about his identity in the Gospel today challenges us to turn the same question to ourselves: “who are you?” Put in another way, “how much of you do, you know?” Your definition of you determines how much you can succeed or fail in the journey of life.
We are living in a world where most things are made-up. Making up is not just about facials; most people make-up their lives to project an identity they do not possess to get high flying definitions about themselves from people. You may not be surprised to hear that there are companies whose services involve branding and rebranding their client’s public image, and they are not cheap.
The definition of you is not about your name nor your title. The “who” in “you” is not about your gender, color, nor your ethnicity. Who you are is not determined by your academic qualification or your business expertise and accomplishments. The challenges in your life now do not define who you are; neither do what people are saying represent you.
Your identity comes from who God says who you are. The Gospel narrative informs us that the people have various definitions about the identity of our Lord Jesus Christ. For some people, he was John the Baptist, for others Elijah, and still, others thought he was one of the prophets. However, when Peter identified him as the Christ the Son of the living God, Jesus said that the revelation came from the heavenly Father. Here we understand that our true identity comes from God.
Only God has the right to define you, and the further good news is that the Lord had already defined you; you only need to accept and connect to it. Find out who you are in these passages:
- From the point of structure, you are fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139:14).
- In the eyes of God, you are precious and honored (Isaiah 43:4), and you are the apple of His eyes (Zechariah 2:8).
- In the heart of God, you are loved with an everlasting love (Deut. 31:3), and God’s thoughts for you are for peace, not evil, so that you can have a future and hope (Jeremiah 29:11).
- From the fact of version, you are a new creation; the old is gone (2 Cor. 5:17).
- In terms of transaction, you owe nothing because Jesus paid the price for your life in full on the cross (John 19:30).
As we march into a new week, let us keep our focus on God’s purpose for our lives, which deeply unveils who we are in God’s plan and design. As our Lord Jesus Christ, you are also a son or daughter of the heavenly Father. Have a blessed week ahead and don’t forget who you are in God and run with it.