Today’s Gospel has two main parts – The question and answers, and then the commissioning of authority to Peter. Caesarea Philippi, the place where today’s Gospel event occurred, is important for understanding what Jesus was asking. Caesarea Philippi was, in many respects the coming together of the religious, political and economic worlds. Caesarea Philippi was founded by Philip, the son of Herod the Great, as a summer residence and to perpetuate his memory and to honor the emperor Caesar. The city was at the center of pagan religions. There were temples for the Syrian gods Baal and Pan, the Roman god Zeus, and a marble temple for the emperor Caesar. Jesus realized that if his disciples did not know who he truly was then his entire ministry and his suffering and death would be useless. Jesus also wanted to make clear that the apostles needed to understand that his message is relevant for all the world.
The first question Jesus asked was: “What is the public opinion?” What do people say about Jesus? My friends, this question is as relevant for us today as it was 2000 years ago for the apostles. What do people say about Jesus, the Church and the ways of goodness, of love and of commitment?
When Pope Benedict was in
“there are many today who claim that God should be left on the sidelines, and that religion and faith… should be excluded from the public forum altogether... This secularist vision seeks to explain human life and shape society with little or no reference to the Creator… If God is irrelevant to public life, then society will be shaped in a godless image.” (From the Speech at Barangaroo)
My friends, we can see this around us. Each of us I am sure has experienced or witnessed a godless approach to life.
Perhaps we have heard other things about Christ and the Church. Church is a waste of time, God doesn’t really exist. God didn’t create the world. God is dead.
At the beginning of WYD, our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke about public opinion of Jesus, and he spoke courageously about his faith in the Church and Jesus Christ.
“Some say there is no place for faith in the 21st Century. I say they are wrong.
Some say that faith is the enemy of reason, I say, also they are wrong.
Because faith and reason are great partners in our human history and in our human future. Rich in humanity, rich in scientific progress.
Some say only that which they see wrong in Christianity and in the church, I say let us speak also about what is right in Christianity and the church.”
The second question Jesus asked was: “What is your personal opinion?”
For the first time in their relationship Peter, speaking for the other disciples, declared publicly: “You are the Christ (Messiah) the Son of the living God.” Peter was the first apostle to publicly recognize Jesus as the Anointed - the God who became Man to save sinners.
My friends, What does Jesus mean to you?
Is he a Founder of a religion?
A Revolutionary Jewish reformer?
One of the great teachers?
Son of God and personal savior?
“The way the truth and the life?”
This can perhaps be broken down into other questions: "How do we really view Jesus? Do we see Jesus as Good Shepherd, Saviour, and Redeemer? Is He our beloved friend, closer to us than our spouse or children, father or mother? Is Jesus a living experience for each of us, walking with us individually, loving us, forgiving us, helping us and transforming our lives and outlook?
What difference does Jesus make in our lives? Have we really given our life to him? Are there areas where we have excluded Him, where our lives are not noticeably different from the lives of those who see Jesus as irrelevant?
Being a Christian makes us different from the rest of world. Faith is not coming to Church. Faith is a way of life.
Coming to church on Sundays is being thankful to God, is recommitting to faith, is a growth and nourishment in love, and coming to Church is an opportunity to support, serve and connect with our community and to prepare for eternal life.
Who do we say that Jesus is in our daily life? Who do we say that He is when we are in the presence of those who don't know him, those who aren't interested in him? Are we ashamed? Do we never speak of Jesus or the ways of Jesus?
What does the way we live and behave say about who Jesus is? Is the joy, the love, the peace that we find in Jesus reflected in the way we live our lives? Christians should be people of joy, love, peace and service.
My friends, like any important relationship, we need to nourish and strengthen our commitment every day.
As the Mass continues, I invite you enter into prayer and not be a spectator. Truly ask Jesus to fill you and I and each of us with the presence and love of Jesus. At communion, each of us will make our personal statement of faith, like Peter in today’s Gospel. Each of us will in humility come to the altar of God and say “Jesus come into my life. Nourish me, heal me and make me your arms, your ears and your voice in the world.”
When you receive communion today, look up at the host and say within your heart the words of Peter: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And as the minister says “The body of Christ” make your ‘Amen’ mean what you are saying. Don’t be half-hearted about it. Your Amen is the public act of your faith in Christ and the Eucharist. It is a commitment for yourself but it is said to the minister, to the Church and to our God.
My friends, the world doesn’t believe Jesus to be present in us, or in the Scriptures, the priest, and especially not in the Eucharist. Make your Amen a statement of your commitment, your belief and your faith, not just for the rest of the Mass, but for the coming week, until you come to nourished and recommit publicly again.
My friends, let us now pause for a few moments to pray quietly, thinking about What we think of Jesus? Is he our Lord? Are we ready to receive him into our hearts and lives in communion? Do each of us really want to united with God? Are we ready to become Jesus in our world today? Let each of us pray and reflect about our faith and our opinion of Jesus!