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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Who Do You Say I Am?

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 27, 2017
St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese, Kenya

How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge…To him be all the glory. Amen!” 

It is on the note of this amazing and beautiful outburst of joy from Romans 11:33-36 that we begin our reflection on this 21st Sunday of ordinary time. In a special way the church enjoins us to recognize, reverence with
sacred awe, praise, and glorify the Sovereign, the All Powerful and Wise Lord. It is only when we know Him (as much as he chooses to reveal himself to us), that we can respect his ordinances, appreciate his greatness, burst out in amazement and declare to others who he really is as Paul and Peter did today. (Matt. 16:13-20)

A young girl was asked: “Who is your father, and how would you describe him?” She was quiet for a couple of seconds as if she was lost in a wondering contemplation. Eventually, she mustered enough courage and
responded thus: “My Father?” She retorted. “He is that man who leaves home before I wake up in the morning; that man who comes back home when I am already asleep, at times with some bars of chocolate, ice cream, cake, peanuts, and fried potato chips; that man who punches mummy in the face whenever he returns home drunk and, he is that man who never cares or gives me a hug.” Tears rolled down her cheeks as she concludes: “That is my father, but how I wish I never knew him.” 
Is this little girl wrong or to blame? Not at all!  Like this little girl (who was right in her case), some of us have a very pejorative view of God. Some have a wrong notion of what he stands for, and yet others are indifferent in their opinion.
Who is Jesus to you?

In the first reading of today (Isaiah 22:19-23), God exhibits his power over all sovereignty, throne and kingdom. In His wise judgment, he reduces the proud and wicked hearted while exalting the lowly and faithful. While Shebna was dethroned because of his pride, wickedness and lack of obedience to the ordinances of the Almighty God, the humble Eliakim was elevated to the throne. In this, Eliakim becomes a prophecy of the Messiah, because Jesus told us this passage spoke of himself.
In the second reading, we see Paul this Sunday bursting out in jubilant excitement and exaltation over the wisdom of God. Like a mountaineer who has reached the apex of Mt Kenya, the apostle turns and contemplates.
Depths are at his feet, but waves of light illumine them, and there spreads all around him an immense horizon which his eye commands. 

The plan of God in the government of mankind spreads out before Paul, and he expresses the feelings of admiration and gratitude with which the prospect fills his heart. Today therefore, Paul not only presents to us the greatness of the wisdom of God, but also His sovereignty over all creation. The Lord’s plans are as marvelous as his wisdom, acts and justice; his designs are as profound as his doings are vast. Paul presents to us the Creator not created by any one, the Counselor not counseled by any one, and the one whose ways, methods and designs are obviously different from ours. Of course, when we realize this we cannot but burst out in jubilant praise: “How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge…” and “How great is your name O, Lord our God, through all the earth…” (Ps 8, 1). How do I see God is a pertinent question we must ask ourselves today!

For time, it suffices only, to take note of the importance of today’s gospel to the Apostolic Succession and the Papacy of the Holy, One and Catholic Church. So, we leave it for the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul or the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. In this gospel, Jesus fully aware of the on-going debate about Him and the ignorance of the people about his personality, decided to also know the mind of those close to him – His disciples: “Who do people say I am…and…You, who do you say I am?” We must not distance ourselves from this question today. Rather, we must ask
ourselves: “Who is Jesus to me? So we find Jesus in today’s gospel asking: “Who do you say that I am?” And we find Simon Peter answering the question by identifying Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Evidently Peter recognized something deep within Jesus a Divine Person, Someone coming from God. Jesus in response sees something deep within Peter that Peter couldn’t see for himself.

In a sense Jesus introduced Peter to himself. “Okay,” Jesus said, “you told Me Who I am. Now let me tell you who you are. You are Rock!” This quality was not something that
Simon Peter recognized within himself. No doubt it was a big surprise, not only to Peter, but also to all who knew him. 

Nevertheless he was previously known as Simon and now, because of Jesus, he was entering into a new self-identity. It took a long time for this new identity to be realised,  however, because Peter’s behavior with respect to Jesus was not solid nor rock-like until after Christ’s resurrection.

All of this was typical of Jesus. We judge people by appearances… Jesus judges with penetrating insight. He went deep inside  and saw the best that they could be with His grace.

St. Augustine once said: “Dig deep enough in any person and you will find something divine.” That’s a perfect description of how Jesus works with us. Put Jesus with any person and He will dig until He finds something divine within us.
It can happen that we have been baptized, received Holy Communion, got married in the church, ordained as a pastor, served, and in fact we are still serving in the church; yet we do not know who is Jesus. I am not kidding you brethren! A very sincere and humble priest once confessed that he never had an encounter with Jesus Christ until after he had been ordained seven years.

Many of us have a distorted view of God. So much of our lives and time is spent worshiping a figment of our own imagination. We fail to realize is that God exists independently of our views of him.  Our goal as Christians should be to bring our
understanding of God in line with the truth of Who He really is.

My dear, you cannot answer this question of
your own accord.
Fr. Joe Mungai, FMH
Therefore, like Peter and Paul, we must seek the counsel of the wise God. We must ask the Holy Spirit to help us and, we must ask God himself to reveal His Son to us as He did to Peter today, or else we will have distorted opinions about Jesus Christ as the Jews had: “…Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah…” 

Who do I say Jesus is? Maybe, we think He is the “cosmic policeman” waiting at every corner  for us to break the law so that He can punish us. Maybe He is the “indulgent old man” --  senile but very friendly; Or the  “frantic manager,” sweating profusely because the world is such a mess and He is trying to hold it all together. For some of us, He might be the “workaholic father” trying to meet the needs of his family; or the miracle worker, the healer, the problem solver, the defender, the rock of ages etc. Indeed, He is the Healer, the Defender, the Miracle Worker, the Problem Solver, the Rock of Ages. But only God in His great wisdom can make Himself fully known to us if we humble ourselves. Peter got the answer not just by his own power, but by the grace of God. It was a gift given to him by God to prepare him for more responsibility and service. He is blessed and happy today because he knew who is Jesus.

This coming week we will all go out to face a very difficult world. Be kind to everyone you meet. Every one of them is fighting his or her own hard battle. There are many things in our world that appeal to the worst within us. That’s why we must hear the words that Jesus addressed to Peter. He said to Simon: “You are rock.” Jesus is finding good in each of us.  Listen to what Jesus is saying to you, and then face each day remembering who it is Jesus says you are and who He meant you to be.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

*Fr. Joe Mungai, FMH, is a Franciscan Missionary of Hope, a relatively new congregation started in Nairobi, Kenya in 1993. He was ordained June 7, 2014. 

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