August 24, 2008

A Surprise Quiz

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 16:13-20 “But who do you say that I am?”

One of the things I hated most when I was in high school was a surprise quiz. I was a crammer student. I studied my notes a day before the quiz, but I still got high grades because I was good in memorizing things in my younger years.

In our gospel for today, we see Jesus giving a surprise quiz for the disciples. And they were caught flat footed and unprepared. Two surprised questions were given.

The first question was an objective question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they answered immediately with gusto: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” It was a give away question. Everybody had an answer. It was just a recall of what they hear everyday about Jesus.

The second question was a tough one. It separated the “a serious student” to “not so serious students.” It was a question that only those who seeks to know Jesus could answer: “Who do you say I am?” Suddenly everybody became dumbfounded and surprised. The question was not a “head question” but a “heart question.”
It was Simon who saved the rest of the disciples from failing the surprised quiz. “You are Christ, the Son of the living God.” Good answer! I can easily imagine a smiling Jesus.

Students who study their notes regularly are always ready for a surprise quiz. In their desire to know and discover more of their subjects, they spend more time in the library and in the internet. They seek knowledge on their own and learn from it. Peter answered the second question with confidence because he learned many things about Jesus by watching, listening, and feeling Jesus. He was with Jesus always. It was his personal encounter with Jesus that led him to answer correctly and convincingly, “You are the son of the living God.”

In the midst of the MoA-AD controversy and the war in Mindanao, we suddenly find ourselves into another surprise quiz. The same questions are asked: “What do people say about the Muslims?” Unfortunately, the answers are not very encouraging: “I hate Moros…They cannot be trusted…They just want war.” Such negative answers were triggered by the MILF recent attacks in North Cotabato and Lanao de Sur and the killing of innocent civilians indiscriminately. The emotions are high and we are living in fear, anger and frustrations. We should condemn the aristocracies of MILF. But we should also be aware of some clear distinctions to avoid inflammatory remarks and hasty generalization. MILF are Muslims, but not all Muslims are MILF. Condemn the MILF violence but not our brothers and sisters Muslim in general who want peace in Mindanao.

The second questions may stop us from judging the Muslims: “But what do you say about them?” Mixed feelings may surface because of our some “not so good experience” with some of them. But set aside our biases and prejudices, and allow our hearts to see, listen and feel, we realize that they are our brothers and sisters. They are like us, who dream of peace and normal life for their families. They are like us who feel hopelessness, fear and confusion in this never-ending cycle of violence.

We also face these two questions every time we relate with one another and encounter people whom we don’t really know like the poor, the oppressed, and the prejudiced sectors of our community and society. The comments, opinions, and judgment we hear about others may help us to know each other, but this is not enough to know them fully. To know and understand them is to immerse ourselves in their world, feel them and have a taste of their life: To feel and to taste (sentir y gustar). The more we know and understand people, the more it becomes difficult for us to judge them.
Now I understand why Jesus is not condemning us in spite of our weaknesses and sinfulness. He knows us more than anybody knows. He can see something good in us. And He continues to forgive and trust us in the hope that someday we will discover our own goodness.

When Peter answered the second question correctly, he was praised and rewarded by Jesus: “Blessed are you Simon. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church… I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven…”
Anyone of us who understand and learn by “sentir y gustar” will be like Peter. Like a rock, we are well grounded. We cannot be easily swayed and influenced by our emotions and bad remarks coming from other people. Our own experience of each other grounds us to continually hope and trust each other. Such hope and trust will give us the key to understand each other and dare to risk again..

When Peter got the right answer to the surprise quiz – that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus strictly ordered his disciples to keep it secret. He wants us to discover the answer by ourselves. To genuinely know Him by heart is to engage ourselves in prayer. It is only in prayer that we can “feel and taste” Jesus.

Fr.Willy M. Samson,SJ
Ateneo de Zamboanga
August 24, 2008

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