Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
In 42 B.C., two years after he died, Julius Caesar was declared a god by the Roman Senate. It was a brilliant piece of political and religious propaganda. It allowed Julius’ adopted son and heir, Caesar Augustus, to take on a new and exalted title: divi filius, “the son of god.” Fifty-six years later, Caesar Augustus died. And in that same year, a Jewish king by the name of Philip decide to rename a city in the northernmost region of the Holy Land in honor of the Caesar. The city’s original name was “Paneas,” after the Greek god Pan whose temple was located there. Philip renamed it “Caesarea.” But since there was already another city by that same name in the Holy Land, it became known as Caesarea Philippi, or “Philip’s Caesarea.”
When Jesus asks His disciples in our gospel, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Given that he was in Caesarea Philippi when he made this confession of faith, Peter could have hardly said anything more politically and religiously provocative. He could have hardly said anything more brave or bold. By calling Jesus “the Christ,” Peter was rejecting Caesar’s claim to be the supreme ruler. By calling Jesus “the Son of God,” Peter was rejecting Caesar’s own claim to be the son of god. And by calling Jesus “the Son of the living God,” Peter was rejecting all other gods besides the one true God: He was rejecting Julius Caesar as a god and Pan as a god. “You are the Son of the living God, the true God, the only God; all these other gods are dead gods, not even gods at all.” That is what Peter was saying. And it was highly provocative. It was brave and bold.
How brave are we in our confession of faith? How bold are we? As we well know, there’s a growing number of topics these days which are politically and religiously provocative to talk about. And it’s remarkable how brave and bold we can be in talking about them and how cowardly we can be in talking about our faith. We are brave enough to talk openly about our views on masks and school reopenings. We are bold enough to put political signs up in our yards. But we are often so cowardly when it comes to confessing our faith in Jesus Christ.
Masks, pandemics, politics—all of these things are passing. In the grand scheme of things, they’re here today and gone tomorrow. And yet we are more willing to promote and defend our views on them, and to do so passionately, than to profess our faith in Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ isn’t passing; He’s eternal: He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. So why not talk about Him more? Why not confess our faith in Him openly? Why not do so passionately, with bravery and boldness? Why are the names of the presidential candidates more often on our lips than the Holy Name of Jesus, the only name under heaven by which we can be saved?
We need the bravery and boldness of Peter these days. And we need to pray for this. Because Peter’s bravery and boldness did not come from himself. It was a grace, a gift from above. Jesus tells Peter, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” When left to his own strength, apart from God’s grace, Peter was not brave and bold. In fact, he was cowardly—cowardly enough to deny Jesus three times. When left to our own strength, we too will be cowardly in confessing our faith. We too will deny Jesus. But with God’s grace, we can bravely and boldly confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. With God’s grace, we can be rocks like Peter was. Let us pray for that grace this week. Amen.