Mark 8:27-35, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Long before there was KathNiel or JaDine, the quintessential love team of Philippine Cinema in the 90s was Marvs and Jolen (The millennials would have to Google them to know who they are).
And in one particular movie that I and fellow college seminarians lined up at the theatre to watch was Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang? In one climactic scene, an exasperated friend-zoned Bujoy, played by Magdangal, confronted her best friend, college heartthrob and regular playboy Ned, about the latter’s indifference to her devotion. She threw a tantrum and cried foul—à la Serena Williams at the US Open—which confused the dumbfounded Ned, played by Agustin. The following was their verbatim tête-à-tête:
Ned: Deretsahin mo nga ako. Dahil hindi ko kayang basahin kung anong nandyan sa utak mo. Kung galit ka sabihin mo. Sabihin mo sa ‘kin kung bakit. Kung nasaktan kita, sampalin mo ko. Sige, gantihan mo ko. Matatanggap ko lahat dahil kaibigan mo ko eh.
Bujoy: O yes, kaibigan mo ‘ko! Kaibigan mo lang ako! And that’s all I ever was to you,
Ned. You’re my best friend. Takbuhan mo kapag may problema ka. Taga-sunod. Taga-bigay ng advise. Taga-enrol. Tagagawa ng assignment. Tagapagpatawa mo kapag nalulungkot ka. Tagatanggap ng kahit na ano. And I’m so stupid to make the biggest mistake of falling in love with my best friend. Dahil kahit kailan, hindi mo naman ako makikita eh. Kahit kailan, hindi mo ako kayang mahalin na higit pa sa isang kaibigan.
Ned: Bujoy! Bujoy!
Bujoy: Ngayon alam mo na. I think you can get out of my life!
You just heard one of the truest and most authentic expressions of a #hugot (angsty, straight from the bowels, anguished cry or lament) from a popular cultural reference. In the movie, a lovelorn lass longing for the affection of her beloved was repeatedly rejected and ignored by him. In a pitiful cry of desperation and surrender she swore him off in her life and that act set off an unprecedented avowal of reciprocal love from the erstwhile “just best friend.” What followed was existential questioning of the beloved on the role of the lover in his life. And until the question was settled, the beloved could not and would not realize the extent of that love and what it was capable of.
My dear brothers and sisters, in the Gospel today, Jesus Christ (pardon the tasteless comparison) was like the spurned lover who did all sorts of things to get the beloved to notice him. He lived among his disciples, walked and talked with them. He broke bread and fished with them. He told them stories about his Father’s Kingdom and he taught them how to love and how to forgive sins. He laughed with them and cried buckets of tears with them. He showed them signs of who he was: curing the sick and lepers, driving away demons, feeding the hungry, calming an angry “Ompong” in the sea and walking on water. Now came the time when he seriously wondered: “In all of these, have they finally gotten that I am the Messiah promised to them in the Scriptures?”
Bear in mind that this was immediately after feeding of the four thousand and the restoration of the blind man at Bethsaida. It was also during this time that scrutiny and suspicion of where Jesus got his power and authority was rising among the religious leaders of Israel. And he asked the question: “Who do you say that I am?” of all places, in Caesarea Philippi, a pagan city known for its worship of Pan, the Greek god of the shepherds but also of wilderness, rustic music, carousing and debauchery. Nothing could be more dramatic than Jesus’ choice of setting, timing and context of the question.
Jesus was in fact asking the disciples their personal and intimate knowledge of him in the hope that they might at last profess his divinity and thereby reveal his true mission. But alas! His disciples hemmed and hawed on their answers. One said, “They said you were John the Baptist.” Another volunteered: “They said you were Elijah.” And still another remarked: “One of the prophets?” Even the use of the pronoun third person plural “they” was indicative of their hesitation to give a definitive answer. In short, they did not really understand who Jesus was and why he was sent from above. Yes, they all witnessed the miraculous things he did, but the meaning of those things they spectacularly, or to use a millennial speak, epically failed.
What was the importance of the disciples knowing who Jesus was? By knowing who the Messiah was, they would also know who they truly were and what they were missioned to do. And so, it took Simon Peter’s gut and instinct to confess what he had long suspected to be Jesus’ identity. In one declarative statement he cried, “You are the Christ!” You can just imagine that the heavenly host with all the angels, in bated breath, exploded thunderingly at Peter’s answer to a Final Jeopardy question (or a Miss Universe Final Q and A response). “Finally! Finally! Someone was paying attention and knew who I was”, Jesus could have said.
And this brings us ultimately to why Jesus asked his disciples the question in the first place .
Confessing one’s love for one person is not enough. Ignatius of Loyola said that “Love is shown more in deeds than in words.” Saying “I love you” to someone special to you is not enough. You have to show that person that you really mean what you say. You have to do special things for this person or at least do ordinary things with extraordinary love for him or her. It’s not simply saying, “I care for you or I miss you” that matters but what you do for this person that reveals the truer intent and depth and gravity of the words. If you only say things but do the opposite, you are, at best, a mediocre lover and at worst, a hypocritical one.
In the same way that we confess that we are Christians, Catholic ones at that, and that we love God and the Church with all our hearts and all our minds and souls but fail to take care of the littlest, the least and last of our brothers and sisters, we are no different from any other person who professes the same but does otherwise. If we say that we love the Body of Christ, aren’t we also saying that we love our fellow human beings including the greatest sinners and the worst criminals among us because they too form the body (although the wounded and diseased part) of Christ? And of course, we want those festering wounds to also find healing and therefore whole-ness.
Christ, in asking the question “Who do you say that I am?” is asking for accountability, for proof, if you put it that way, that we understand the consequence of such statement. If you love me, you understand who I am and what I came to do. If you love me, you know I hate violence and I hate making the lives of the poor miserable. If you love me, you know that I do not tolerate disrespect of my Father. If you love me, you know that my heart bleeds for the widows and orphans and those accused without proper trial and convicted of false crimes. If you love me, as you repeatedly have said, you also would love my apostles and saints, my ministers no matter how flawed and sinful they too are. If you love me, you will not side with what is despicable and evil and will not consent with those who commit corruption and take away what rightfully belongs to the poor. If you love me, you will not tolerate those who victimize the minors and children.
In short, if you love me, you will do as I have done and am now doing.
And in response we say, “Lord! Lord!” And Christ would reply, “And now that you know, you can get back into my life.”
*image by Walter Bright