A reflection on the readings of Sunday, August 27, 2023 — The 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Friends, Jesus is Lord.
What an audacious statement to make in Caesarea Philippi!
A city known for its temple to the Pan God and dedicated to Tiberius Caesar, who is considered to be the Lord. The majority of the citizens had been propositioned to believe that Tiberius is of divine ancestry. This religiopolitical context offers a setting for Jesus’s question, “Who do people say I am.” At one level, the question seems to be a phishing expedition, but at another level, it is an invitation Jesus is offering his disciples to re-evaluate their beliefs. The person people say he is would immediately give them an indication that not everyone ascribes to the Lordship of Tiberius. They are those among them, in Caesarea Philippi who are anticipating the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Lord. This means Tiberius’ claim of divinity, and Philip’s decision to dedicate the one-time city of Paneas to Caesar is cast into doubt. Or Tiberius is not the Lord they are expecting, even so, there is still doubt. And if Caesar isn’t the Lord, who then is the Lord? This is the question Jesus wants his disciples to consider as they deal with the news of his forthcoming crucifixion and death on the cross.
The implications of this question for the disciples are communicated in Peter’s answer. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The first implication is that Christ is the Messiah, and he is the King. For the Son of God isn’t a mere religious title. It has political consequences which Caesar ascribes to himself. But is Caesar the Son of God? This is the implication of Peter’s confession. The reality is that there cannot be two Kings. If Jesus is the Son of God, and Caesar is also the Son of God, then one of them must be the claimant while the other is the true King. This, in many ways, indicates why Jesus had to die. Caesar can’t have a rival. But there is more. Jesus isn’t the King who sees Caesar as his rival. No! He accepts and respects the Kingship of Caesar because he knows his own Kingdom isn’t of this world. So he is free enough to let Caesar be King and to even die in the hands of Caesar. This is deep, and indeed the core implication of his question to the disciples. In other words, he doesn’t need protecting, and he isn’t afraid to die in the hands of Caesar. Because Caesar isn’t the Lord. He is the Lord. He has the last word, not Caesar.
Today, this text also has implications for us. Is Jesus the Lord, or is it our problems, our sins, and the powers that be? When we keep beating ourselves down for what we have done in the past, we are indeed making that sin, that failing, our Lord. It simply means that sin has the last word, not Jesus who has forgiven us. And so too are our problems and the powers that be. Yes, they can stand against us. They might even make life difficult for us. Even at that, they are not the Lord. They may tarry in the night, but Jesus is the Lord of both the night and day, and he will turn our night into day. For he is the Lord. This means we don’t have to be afraid or worry. We have to trust him and let him be God. Lora learned this earlier in her life. When her boss abused her, and later fired her for no just reason, she wasn’t afraid, beaten down or took the law upon her hands to get her pound of flesh. No! She trusted in Jesus as her Lord and Saviour, and let the legal system run its course. In the end, she got justice. And so would many of us suffering in the hands of the Caesars of our times who see us as rivals. Like, Jesus, we must be free enough not to take them as our rivals. For Jesus is the Lord, not them.
Image credit: Lawrence, OP. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Via Flickr.