Deacon Bill: The Importance of Who?

I believe that most of us are comfortable with the notion of Jesus as the Messiah. In Hebrew, messiah means “anointed one”, in Greek, the “anointed one” is “Christ”. To be correct, we should call Jesus “the Christ”, not simply Jesus Christ. But this is not a significantly important distinction. It is though, a very important requirement that we know what the term “the Anointed One” meant to the Jews at the time of Jesus if we are to understand what Jesus was asking his disciples; “Who…?”

 From the time of Joshua, until the Exile of Judah, from about 1400 BCE until 600 BCE, for about 800 years, Israel had occupied the “Promised Land”. Because Israel and Judah had abandoned fidelity to the One True God, and him alone, they were to suffer all the curses found in the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 29. The prophets had warned Israel and Judah, and explained quite thoroughly what would happen to Israel if she did not repent and return to God. But, with each prophetic warning came a prophetic message of hope, a promise of deliverance. The Exile would not be forever! God would provide a “Deliverer”!

Almost immediately after God condemns Eve for taking the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God promises Eve that there will come a fruit from her womb, a child that will destroy the “evil one”; the “protoevangelium”. Isaiah told Judah that on “this mountain… God will destroy death forever!” (Is 25:6a-9). The Prophet Daniel gave a “name” for the one who is to come: “the Son of Man” (Dan 7:13-14). The prophet Ezekiel described the four-fold mission of the Messiah: to gather the nations, drive out the enemy, cleanse the temple, and rule the kingdom.

The idea of Messiah, for the Jews at the time of Jesus had meaning! The promise of the Messiah meant hope for a desperately oppressed people. Unfortunately, in Israel’s history, before and after Jesus, there had come and gone many men proclaimed (by themselves or others) to be the “Messiah”. So, when Jesus asked his disciples “Who do the people say the ‘Son of Man’ (the Messiah) is”, the disciples all responded with a name of some person who was already dead. “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”. All of these men had come and gone, and Israel remained an occupied and oppressed land. With the death of every hope grows despair.

When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought Jesus was, Jesus was asking if they too had lost hope. Peter spoke for all by saying! “You are the Christ (the anointed One), Son of the Living God.” To Simon, son of John, God had revealed the true “Messiah”, God´s Son. The “hope” of God’s promise was alive and present in the hearts and minds of Jesus’ disciples. But we need to keep in mind that this proclamation of Simon son of John, who we know as Peter, came before the death of Jesus. They had hope, but not faith. They had not yet experienced Christ’s passion. Faith is tested hope. Are we to believe that the disciples would have continued to believe that Jesus was the Messiah after he was crucified, if there had not been the Resurrection? For three days after Jesus’ death, the disciples locked themselves in the “Upper Room” trying to figure out what had happened. Their hope was being severely tested. When Jesus appeared to them in that Upper Room, the “hope” of Jesus being the Messiah was transformed into knowledge, and their faith moved from who Jesus was, to who they were to become; what they could accomplish through the power of Christ’s name.

Today, Jesus asks us, his disciples, who do we say he is? If we say that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, the Messiah who has come to gather the nations, cure the sick, cleanse the temple and rule God’s kingdom, then are we simply repeating words or are we making a statement? If we are making a statement, a profession of belief, of hope, then is it also a profession of faith? If we are proclaiming our faith that Jesus in the Christ, then we must ask ourselves just how has Jesus united me with others? How has Jesus cured me, driven out my demons? How has Jesus cleaned the “temple” of my heart? How have I submitted myself to the “rule of Christ”? How has my hope survived the test of trial and persecution?

It seems rather silly to say “during this political season”, referring to the upcoming elections, because it seems that we are perpetually in one “political season” or another. Yet, we will hear over the next few months how this candidate or another, will “lead us into the ‘Promised Land’ of a more secure future”. Well, neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump is the “Messiah”. If we transfer our hope in Christ to hoping in either one of these men, we will be left in despair.

However, Peter’s profession of Jesus as the Messiah was just the first part of the Gospel message. Jesus knew he was going to die. Jesus knew he was going to leave earth. Jesus needed a Church to continue the fulfillment of God’s promise, the fourth part of the Messiah’s mission – to rule the Kingdom until Jesus’ returned. When Jesus turned to Simon, and named him “Peter” (Cephas in Hebrew, Petros in Greek), which means “rock” (that title is very significant); “I call you Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church….” Jesus was bringing to mind the story of Shebna, the unprofitable minister, from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Because of Shebna’s self-serving rule, God removed him from his position – “I will thrust you from your office, and pull you down from your station…” God then elevated Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, to Shebna’s former position, master of the “kingdom”. The Pharisees were the “Shebna” of old, and Peter was the new “Eliakim”. It was upon Peter, and his successors that Jesus bestowed his authority.  Later on, after the Resurrection, Jesus included all of the apostles (the office of bishop) in the authority of Peter, to loosen or bind, but Peter alone retained the role of governor.

Thus, the proper role of the Church, is to rule God’s kingdom until Jesus’ return. Our pope is a bishop who is elected to serve in the role of Peter, as his successor. But the pope is still one of the bishops. The “law” is a tool of governance, and the “Canon Law” of the Church is simply a tool to govern. But Canon Law is more than a Code of Law. The Teaching of the Church is more than its Catechism. The Law and Teachings of the Church are the fundamental principles for living in the way of Christ. The Code of Canon Law defines “specific” applications of general principles. The Catechism of the Church summarizes the foundations of these general principles. The “teaching office” is a dynamic expression of the Church in that it is always learning, refining, deepening its understanding of God, Christ and our role in God’s Church. Both, the Canon Law, and the Catechism are essential elements of the Church. Without the “Law” the Catechism is merely esoterica. Without the Catechism, the Law is whim. The Law and the Catechism are our guides and for each, the other’s strength and purpose.

And so, we are brought back to the question Jesus asked his disciples, but this time of us: “Who do you (we) say that I am?” If we acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, the Christ, then we, by necessity, obligate ourselves to the rule of God’s Church. We put ourselves under the teaching authority of the Church, and through faith and perseverance, we strive to live within the principles outlined in the Catechism. Our primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, and our primary responsibility as citizens is to work toward promoting the Messianic Mission.

And, as we are in “another” political season, we need to ask ourselves which candidate really seeks to fulfill the mission of Christ? Which candidate truly works toward unification of all people? Which candidate truly works to heal divisions of racism and hatred? Which candidate works to cleans the temple of our heart from the rule of lust, greed, and self-righteousness? Which candidate rightfully rules in the place of the Messiah until his return? Well, Pope Francis comes to mind. However, the pope has no civil authority here in America. As Catholics, we are obligated to ask the candidates how they plan to bring forth a world consistent with the social teachings of the Church?

Again, there is no human candidate that will become our “messiah”, but St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, gives us an idea how we might discern which candidate might be better suited for the task of governing – looking for truth and wisdom outside of one’s own self. The apostles were not chosen for their “perfection” but for their “teachability”. Peter would express a deeply profound truth, and a minute later, utter something profoundly wrong. Saul, to become Paul, persecuted the very Church he was to become its herald to the Gentiles. True leaders are dedicated to truth, not theirs, or popular opinions.

Deacon Bill Stimpson

August 5, 2020

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