Sunday, June 20, 2010

What It Means to Call Jesus ‘the Christ’

"Who do you say that I am?"

(Twelfth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on June 20, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 9: 18-24.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twelfth Sunday 2010]

What was Jesus’ last name?

Ask your average man on the street that question, and he’ll probably respond, “Oh that’s easy, his last name was ‘Christ!’”

I’m sure there are many professed Christians who would answer in the very same way.

And, of course, they would all be wrong!

Jesus didn’t have a last name! In ancient Israel, you were known to others and to the world by your relationship to your father. That’s how you were distinguished from other individuals with the same name.

John, the apostle, for example, was known as ‘the son of Zebedee’—so was his brother, James; Simon Peter was known as ‘the son of John’; Judas was known as ‘the son of Simon Iscariot’—and on and on the list goes.

Jesus was known to the people of his time as ‘Yeshua, bar Yosef” (excuse my Aramaic—it’s a little rusty): in English that’s “Jesus, son of Joseph.”

The bottom line is this: If someone asks you the question, “What was Jesus’ last name?” they’re asking you a trick question, to which you should immediately respond, “Jesus didn’t have a last name! He was not the natural child of Mary Christ and the foster child of Joseph Christ!”

So where did that name Christ come from?

Well, very simply the word ‘Christ’ became part of Jesus’ name because of who he was and what he accomplished in God’s plan for our salvation. Here’s how the Catechism explains it, in paragraph 436: “The word ‘Christ’ comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, which means ‘anointed.’ It became the name proper to Jesus only because he accomplished perfectly the divine mission that ‘Christ’ signifies.”

Jesus was ‘anointed’ by the Spirit to reconcile the world to God the Father by his death and resurrection. Sad to say, during our Lord’s 3-year earthly ministry, Simon Peter understood only half of this truth. As we heard in today’s gospel, when Jesus asked his apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ of God”—in other words, “You are the Anointed One—the Christos—the Messiah”. However, Peter didn’t realize that Jesus would be a suffering Messiah. That understanding would come only after our Lord’s resurrection.

Now all of this means something very practical for us and for our lives today. If Jesus is the Anointed One—the Christos—the Messiah (and he is!), that means his words carry divine authority! He speaks to us in the name of his heavenly Father, who has absolute and complete authority over our lives!

We call God “Lord” for a reason, do we not?—because he is to be the Lord of all we say and do.

Now, unfortunately, this can be a really big problem for us—and IS a really big problem for us!—because with our fallen human nature we tend to resist authority—especially God’s!

C.S. Lewis said it very well in his book, “The Problem of Pain” (and this is great analogy for Father’s Day). No offense to any of the grandfathers here present, but Lewis said that most of us really want to worship and follow a God who acts more like a grandfather than a father. It’s a very interesting insight. A good father, as we all know, has got to be a disciplinarian at times—the proverbial ‘bad guy’ who says, “Do it now!,” “Stop that immediately!,” and “Don’t do that anymore!” A grandparent, on the other hand, tends to be a bit more lenient, a bit more “open-minded” about things. I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up I loved to go to see my grandparents. They’d let me stay up late and do almost anything I wanted to do—stuff I could never have gotten away with at home!

Here’s how Lewis said it in his book. He wrote, “We want, in fact, not so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of the day, ‘a good time was had by all.’”

Yeah, I like that! Don’t you?

Of course, when I’m really honest with myself, I will admit that I need something more than a “senile benevolence” in my life.

I need a “benevolent authority”—a benevolent authority who loves me even more than I love myself; a benevolent authority who knows me and who knows what’s best for me; a benevolent authority who will keep me from hurting myself and others; a benevolent authority who will bless me in countless ways if I’m faithful to him, and who will be there to correct me if I’m not.

When I say that I believe in Jesus Christ, I am actually saying, “I recognize Jesus as the benevolent authority—indeed, the ultimate authority—of my life. He is the Anointed One of the Father, and when he speaks to me through his written word or through his Church, I listen, and I try to obey.”

That’s what I mean when I profess my belief in Jesus as “the Christ.” That’s what real Christians have meant for 2,000 years.

I ask you this morning: Is that what you mean? Is that what you really mean?