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By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
ROME, AUG. 22, 2008 (Zenit.org).- There is a practice in today’s culture and society that can help us toward understanding this Sunday’s Gospel: opinion polls.
These are conducted everywhere, especially in the political and commercial spheres. One day Jesus also wanted to do an opinion poll, but, as we shall see, for a different purpose. He did it not for political reasons, but for educational ones.
Having arrived in Caesarea Philippi, that is, in the northernmost region of Israel, and taking a little rest alone with the apostles, Jesus asks them, point blank, “Who do people say that the son of man is?”
It seems that the apostles were not expecting to be asked more than to report what people were saying of him. They answered: "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
But Jesus was not interested in measuring his popularity or in looking for an index of how well he was regarded by the people. His purpose was entirely different. So he immediately followed his first question with a second: “Who do you say that I am?"
This second, unexpected question catches them completely off guard. There is silence and they stand looking at each other. In the Greek it makes it clear that all of the apostles together responded to the first question and that only one person, namely, Simon Peter, responded to the second question: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”
Between the two responses there is a leap over an abyss, a “conversion.” To answer the first question it was only necessary to look around, to have listened to people’s opinions. But to answer the second question, it was necessary to look inside, to listen to a completely different voice, a voice that was not of flesh and blood but of the Father in heaven.