A Homily on the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time
“Who do people say that I am?”
At the first glance, we might think that Jesus is so concerned with His image among the people, that He cares so much what people say. We often say that we cannot please everybody. St. Josemaría said, “We are not like a 100-peso bill that everybody would accept if offered”. That is why we should not be concerned with what people say or who people say that we are, especially if we know that what we are doing is for the glory of God. Let us always rectify our intentions.
Because Jesus’ only concern in life is doing God’s will – He once said that His food is to do the will of His Father – then, we can be sure that He was not after His self-image when He asked, “Who do people say that I am?” With this question, He wanted to know how much His disciples knew Him through the knowledge of the people. Because, sometimes, we only have a second-hand knowledge of persons and we deal with them with this knowledge. We deal with a neighbor who just moved in with the knowledge that we have of him through our housekeeper.
Jesus asked His disciples “Who do people say that I am?” to test the waters. He wanted to know whether or not they are more or less ready for the announcement that would come later of His passion and death. He would introduce Himself later as “the one who was pierced and mourned for like for an only child”, as the Prophet Zechariah prophesied in the First Reading. It is very difficult to mourn for someone we don’t know. That is why Jesus wanted to find out if the Apostles really knew Him in order to tell inform them of what lies ahead – His imminent death. If they knew Him so well, they would know that He is the Messiah. And they would mourn for His death as Zechariah prophesied.
What was really important for Jesus was the answer to His second question: “Who do you say that I am?” Again, what He meant by this is that the way His disciples knew Him will determine the way they would deal with Him. This is human nature. We deal with the people around us according to who they are to us. Curiously, our dealings with them are as unique as their persons. There are as many types of relationships as there are unique individuals that we deal with.
The second question was not anymore to test the waters. It was to find out whether the Apostles’ knowledge of who Jesus is, was first-hand or second-hand information. When the Lord Jesus asks each of us today: “Who am I to you?”, He wants to figure out whether we know Him by heart or by head. Do we have a second-hand experience of Him (knowledge by head)? Can we boast of a first-hand, intimate experience of who He is (knowledge by heart)?
You know Jesus by head if you just go to Mass out of habituation. Your knowledge of Jesus is just head level when you pray only when you feel like it. When it is easier for you to talk about God rather than to talk to God, your friendship with Jesus is simply head-level. If suffering, for you, is meaningless and has no relevance to your relationship with Jesus, then, you know Jesus only by head. When you don’t walk your talk, your knowledge of Jesus is by head, not by heart.
But when you maintain a plan of life, a schedule for daily prayer and you fight to be faithful to it despite your failures, then, you know Jesus intimately in your heart. When you are convinced of the necessity of going regularly to Confession and of attending Mass daily and every Sunday, I’m sure you know Jesus very well in your heart. When you feel the drive to bring your friends and officemates to Christ through your good examples of virtues and prayer life, who will doubt your intimate knowledge of Jesus by heart? When you try to work well with supernatural vision of glorifying God in your professional work and of offering to Him your praises and thanksgiving, I am totally convinced that you know Jesus by heart very well.
My dear friends, it is very easy for us to address each other as “Brothers and Sisters in Christ”, but do we really mean it? In the Second Reading today, St. Paul tells us that “in Christ Jesus, all of us are sons and daughters of God through faith”. What kind of sons and daughters are we if we don’t know by heart our Father God?
We will know Jesus by heart once we receive the promise of God through the Prophet Zechariah in the First Reading. “I will pour out on the family of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of love and supplication”. St. Paul, in the Second Reading, assures us that “because we belong to Christ, we are of Abraham’s race – of the family of David – and we are to inherit God’s promise” – the Holy Spirit. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we can now cry out like the Psalmist: “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord, my God”. In the last part of the Gospel passage that we hear today, Jesus suggests that a true follower of Him – meaning, a disciple who really knows Him by heart – is one who denies himself and takes up cross each day, and follows Him.
Let us ask the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary to teach how to know Jesus more and more by heart, rather than just by head. Amen.