In the Gospel reading for today from the 16th chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus Christ asks his disciples a question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Today each of us are asked that same question: Who is the Son of Man? Those words, “The Son of Man” are seldom used today; and to find out their meaning we need to look first at the Old Testament.
In the Book of Ezekiel in the second chapter, the words “Son of man” with a small “m” are used by God to call the prophet: “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!” The Lord addresses those same words to each of us today, whatever our ages: Grow up! “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!” When Ezekiel stood up, God said to him, “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” Ezekiel was obedient. He relates that, “So I opened my mouth, and He fed me this scroll.” A scroll is a roll of paper with words written on it. We do not know what words Ezekiel ate, but he ate the scroll; and he found it “was sweet as honey in my mouth.” For us, the scroll that we are being urged to eat is the whole of the Bible—both the Old and the New Testaments.
After Ezekiel ate his scroll, he found that his fellow Jews would not listen to him; and Ezekiel became “embittered in the rage of [his] spirit.” When we read the Bible, my experience is that we often bring to our reading of the Bible our personal problems—our fears and our frustrations and our anger—and the Lord heals those problems. We do not need to hear a voice telling us that a particular problem has been resolved, but we can know in our hearts that the Lord is dealing with that problem. That was what happened to Ezekiel. After seven days, Ezekiel was told: “Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me.” We too have been appointed watchmen to the Church—that is, one who guards and protects the Church from any dangers that confront it. This is not an impossible task for any of us, as long as we pray, join in the Divine Liturgy and read the Bible, we gain the ability to protect the Church from any heresies—from any false teachings or wrong guidelines about how to live as a Christian.
Now, anger is one’s spirit is not a very good trait, for Ezekiel, for me or for any of us. A few weeks ago, as I was coming slowly onto a motorway here in Manchester, the car behind me got impatient and started honking me. I still waited until the traffic had cleared before I entered the motorway. However, I was annoyed by the impatience of the other driver, so I honked him back, as he speedily passed me as soon as he could get on the motorway. I shouldn’t have done it, but I honked him back. He was so angry with me that he stopped his car in the fast lane of the motorway and started to get out of the car to let me know what he thought of me. Meanwhile, the car behind him honked him; and he realized, angry as he was with me, that he was being rather stupid stopping his car in the fast lane of the motorway, so he closed his door and drove off. Well, the experience taught me a lesson: Don’t honk in anger; or better yet, control your anger, especially when you are driving.
Ezekiel learned to control his anger when the people—his people, the Jews exiled to Babylon—refused to listen to him. Many of us are confronted with that experience. We think we know how to handle a particular situation, but someone, perhaps in our own family or among our friends, disagrees. They will not listen to us. Certainly, I have had that experience; and I think we all have to learn that people will not always listen to us. Ezekiel learned to listen; and throughout his life God continued to address Ezekiel as “Son of man.”
In the Old Testament the words “son of man” with a small “m” mean simply a human person—a human being to whom God wishes to speak. Why is that important to us today? Because when Christ describes Himself in the New Testament, He consistently says He is the Son of Man with a capital “M”. For example, when Christ heals the paralyzed man in Chapter Nine of the Gospel of St. Matthew, Christ says, “The Son of Man”—that is Christ—“has authority on earth to forgive sins.” And in Chapter 11 of the Gospel of St. Matthew Christ says of His time on earth, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking. . .” There are many other examples throughout the New Testament. There are two reasons why Christ consistently called Himself the Son of Man. First, He needed the freedom to pursue His ministry—the freedom to draw the people who lived around Him and all of us to believe in Him. He wanted each of us to find out slowly that He is the Son of God. Second, He wanted to remind us that He is fully human.
On this Third Sunday after Pentecost on which we celebrate the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, St. Cyril, the fifth century Patriarch of Alexandria, reminds us that “Peter did not say ‘you are a Christ’ or ‘a son of God’ but ‘the Christ, the Son of God. For there are many . . . who have attained the rank of adoption as sons [that is, as human beings who believe in God], but there is only One who is by nature the Son of God. Thus, using the definite article [the], he said, the Christ, the Son of God. And in calling Him Son of the living God, Peter indicates that Christ Himself is life; and death has no authority over Him.”
Children, do you remember that lovely sermon that Father Gregory preached a few weeks ago on Pentecost? He put a camera on three legs—and what did each leg stand for? . . . That’s right the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity of the three divine persons. Now neither the Father nor the Son nor the Holy Spirit are people, are they, or else we would have three gods and we know that there is only one? But Jesus Christ is a person, just as each one of us is a person. So when Jesus Christ asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” the disciples were not very sure of what to say. “They said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” In other words, at that time the disciples were only aware that Jesus was a man—a holy man, a teacher, a prophet—but just a man. However, Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Christ told St. Peter, just as tells us today, “on this rock, I will build My Church. . .” Christ’s words to Peter are often misinterpreted, especially by Roman Catholics. When Christ said “on this rock, I will build My Church,” the Gospel uses the feminine demonstrative pronoun and article in Greek which did not refer to the man, Peter. As St. Bede, the outstanding scholar of Ango-Saxon England wrote in the eighth century: “Upon this perfection of faith which thou didst confess [Peter] I will build My Church.” In the eleventh century, the Biblical scholar, the Blessed Theophylact, made the same point: “The Lord is saying, ‘This confession which you have made [Peter] shall be the foundation of those who believe.” One idea is very clear here. The rock upon which Christ has built His Church is that He is both God and a human being. The Son of God became man. The Son of God took the words “the Son of man” and showed that Christ had become a human being. That is the precise meaning of the word, “the Incarnation”—that God became human in the person of Jesus Christ. Today we can rejoice that every human being is called to know that Jesus Christ is both God and man.
And so we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen
Deacon Emmanuel Kahn