by Fr. Tommy Lane
You have expectations of the President of the United States. You have certain ideas about what he should do and say especially in certain situations. You have expectations of what the school teacher should do and say. You have expectations of everybody who is in a particular role or public position. At the time of Jesus the Jews also had expectations of what the Messiah should be like and what he should do and say. Jesus’ contemporaries expected the Messiah would solve their political problems. They believed that through the Messiah God would once again intervene and give them back control of Palestine which had been taken over by the Romans in 63 BC. In fact, for many centuries before that the land of Palestine had been under foreign control, really since 587 BC when Babylon conquered Jerusalem. So there was a deep longing for centuries to have independence and self-government. They believed the Messiah would be a military commander who would head a rebellion against the occupation of their land.
But Jesus’ idea of what the Messiah should be and do was completely different to the expectations of his contemporaries. He did not encourage conflict or warfare; instead he said, “Blessed are the gentle, they shall inherit the earth…Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called sons of God…Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.” (Matt 5:5,9,11-12) As we heard in the Gospel today when Jesus asked his disciples who people thought he was they reported that some thought he was John the Baptist (come back from the dead because of his miracles), some thought he was Elijah (whom they believed would come back again before the time of the Messiah), and others thought he was Jeremiah or one of the other prophets come back again (Matt 16:13-14). We can understand why Jesus’ contemporaries did not think he was the Messiah because he was not doing or saying the things they expected the Messiah would.
But Peter received a huge grace from God. Peter proclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” because the Father had revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Messiah (Matt 16:16-17). Jesus declared that Peter was a happy man because the Father had revealed to him who Jesus really was. Although Peter and Jesus’ other disciples now knew Jesus was the Messiah they still did not understand that Jesus was a peaceful Messiah. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday evening said to Jesus whom they still did not recognize, “Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.” (Luke 24:21) After three years of listening to Jesus preaching and watching his miracles they still did not get it. Even on the day of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven we read in the Acts of the Apostles 1:6 that they asked him if the time had come for him to restore the kingdom to Israel. So even after Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them and taught them for forty days they still did not get it. It would take the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost on the apostles before they would fully understand the type of Messiah Jesus really was.
After Jesus admitted to the disciples in our Gospel excerpt today that he was the Messiah he warned them not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matt 16:17,20) He did not want to raise false expectations about his ministry. For that reason in John 6:15 we read that after Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish he fled back to the hills alone because he realized the people were about to come and take him by force and make him king. Now that Peter has proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah and Jesus has admitted to his disciples that he is in fact the long awaited Messiah Jesus must correct their false notions of who the Messiah really is and explain that he is a suffering Messiah who will die for the people. In our Gospel next Sunday we will hear Jesus correcting Peter when Peter objected to Jesus suffering and dying in Jerusalem. (Matt 16:21-22)
Jesus came revealing what the Father’s plan for the world was. The problem was that people were looking at Jesus only from a worldly point of view with their notion of what the Messiah should do. What about us? Where do we get the information that feeds and nourishes our minds? Do we take our understanding of the meaning of life and our values for living from the world or do we take our values from Jesus and allow his teaching to feed and nourish our minds? If we allow our minds and way of thinking to be formed and influenced by the thinking of the world we may end up on the wrong track like some of the disciples. But if we listen to Jesus’ words and probe them until we understand then we will be blessed people as Jesus called Peter blessed in our Gospel today (Matt 16:17). If we do not understand some aspect of the Church’s teaching we can probe and question and probe and question until we find the reason for the Church’s teaching. The Church is a caring mother and has very good reasons for leading and guiding people in the way she does. It is out of love and care for us that the Church teaches us as she does. Jesus has come to show us the way to the Father. The way of the world often only leads to hell, sometimes hell on earth, but the world wants to disguise where it is leading us, because the world profits when we follow the ways of the world. We take our guidance from Jesus because he is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the only one who can save us. (Matt 16:16)
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
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