From 1956 to 2016, the game show “To Tell the Truth” was a source of great entertainment for many television watchers. A panel of four famous people would try to guess which of three challengers was telling the truth about themselves and their life. The celebrity panel, from Kitty Carlisle to Tom Bergeron, asked questions and, depending on their own knowledge and life experience, they tried to identify who was actually telling the truth about themselves and what they claimed they did in life.
In our own lives, we often meet new people and we want to find out about them: what is their background, what interests do we have in common, where do we differ in opinion or in what we like and dislike? Many people at the time of Jesus also approached Him with questions, trying to find out more about this person whose fame was growing in the countryside among all kinds of people.
Jesus is often asked who He is. People were making all kinds of guesses as to His identity. In the Gospel of Mark we are told:
“…Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" They said in reply, "John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter said to him in reply, "You are the Messiah." (Mark 8:27-29)
In the Gospel of Matthew we read:
“When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:13-16)
In both of these cases, St. Peter answers Jesus’ question about His identity with a very powerful and significant title: Messiah, and in the case of Matthew’s Gospel, Peter continues: “…the Son of the living God.” How profound were these insights given to the first Pope! Jesus tells Peter that it was not his own mind, his own reason that brought him to this conclusion: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 16:17)
St. Peter received a revelation from God the Father as to the true nature of Jesus. Jesus was not just a good teacher, a powerful healer or a new prophet of Israel. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises of God to redeem His People. The word Messiah (in Greek, Christ) means “Anointed.” As Saint John Paul II taught:
“…the name "Christ" in the language of the Old Testament meant "Messiah." Israel, the People of God of the old covenant, lived in expectation of the realization of the promise of the Messiah, which was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, from the very beginning Jesus was called Christ, the "Messiah," and was accepted as such by all who "received him" (Jn 1:17).” (Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ General Audience, Wednesday 13 May 1987)
The title of Messiah points to the reality that Jesus is God and the Son of God. He is anointed at His baptism by the Holy Spirit when God the Father declared the Sonship of Jesus: “After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:16-17) In making this declaration, the prophecy of the Great and Holy Prophet Isaiah was being fulfilled: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, Upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1) The prophecy of Psalm 2 also confirms Jesus’ identity: “I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, who said to me, "You are my son; today I am your father.” (Psalm 2:7)
Pope St. John Paul II taught: “One must bear in mind this biblical-messianic background in order to realize that Jesus' way of acting and of expressing himself indicated the awareness of a completely new reality… Jesus … stated and made it understood that he is Son of God… in the natural sense.”
Our next meditation will concentrate on the most explicit title Jesus used for Himself, a title that confirmed the reality of Jesus as the Son of God and that He is indeed God.