If Jesus would ask me who people say He was, I have an answer for Him from a former parishioner. After Mass one Sunday morning, I was stepping out of the Church, and behold, a parishioner looking really angry was already outside waiting for me. I mustered courage to extend my hand for a handshake but that wasn’t what I got. This guy went on a tirade. He started: “I totally disagree with you on everything you said today. Listen, I’m a liberal, and I’m proud to be a liberal because Jesus is a liberal.” I smiled and thanked him for letting me know that. So, we can add “liberal” among the designations given to Jesus by our neighbors. If he asks me, though, who I say he is, I certainly will not tell him he is a liberal. Rather, I will tell Him that “He is a liberator,” by which I mean, “a Savior” or even Christ. But a liberal? No way! At least, not in the sense that political pundits and social engineers of today use the term.
Nor would I tell Him that “He is a conservative;” because He isn’t. Again, not in the sense that our politicians use the term. Liberal, conservative, socialist, democrat, independent, republican, communist, libertarian– Jesus is not any of these. He is the Christ. The attempt by politicians to hoodwink, pocket, manipulate, and sandwich the name of Jesus into their campaign slogans is clearly a sin against the 2nd Commandment, which forbids taking God’s name in vain. As their political toy, many liberals invoke Jesus’ name to support their positions on human rights, except the rights of the most vulnerable, like the unborn and the old. Some conservative politicians invoke Him to buy votes from the so-called value-voters but discard His message of compassion to the sinner and the segment of the human family that they have intentionally or veiledly marked as outcasts.
To all of them Jesus says today: “Get behind me, Satan! The way you think isn’t God’s ways, but men’s.” Those who call on Jesus without renouncing themselves, their greed, selfishness, hard-heartedness, unbridled search for pleasure and gratification of the senses, are like the person that St. James says in the second reading, has faith without any good deeds to show for it. Such faith, St. James says, is quite dead. On the contrary, the one who calls on Jesus and yields his or her life to Jesus, understanding that good deeds, sacrifice, service, love and even rejection by the world are ingredients of the Kingdom, will triumph with Jesus in the resurrection.
The great 20th century preacher, Fulton Sheen, penned down some lines for us on how to recognize the presence of Christ amid the shining deceptions of deviltry: “When Satan sits enthroned at the end of time, as the book of Revelation 2:13 noted, our Lord said that he will appear so much like Him that if it were possible, even the elect would be deceived. But if Satan works miracles, if he lays his hands gently on children, if he appears benign and a lover of the poor, how will we know him from Christ? Satan will have no scars on his hands, feet or side. He will appear as a priest but not as a victim.” Yes, Satan will appear like a liberal, but not a Liberator or a Savior.
Each of us is called to give a personal answer to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” Do you honestly know Him as God? Is He truly your savior who died for you? Have you chosen Him above the obstinacy of the self, the senses and their desires? Does He rule your life or are you ruled by the loud, ‘devil-may-care’ majority opinion of the society? Do you see Jesus in your neighbor; feel Him as part of your life; hear Him in the inspired words of scripture; know and sense His presence in the Eucharist that you receive today? Is it possible for you to relax with Jesus for half an hour as with your closest friend, enjoying His companionship and intimacy? Who is Jesus to you?
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo