21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
August 21, 2011

“Spokespersons” abound in our days and times. So many claim to speak for others. Politicians love to talk endlessly about the needs of their “constituents,” claiming that they speak for the voiceless and the faceless. So many “cause-oriented” groups claim to speak for the poor, the unjustly treated, the downtrodden, the marginalized, etc. In the Philippines, the invention of “party-list” groupings has almost become a cottage industry, with party-lists multiplying like mushrooms everytime the national elections draw near.

As a Principal of a small school once again, I see this once too often in my job. Someone knocks at my door and minces no words and blurts it right off: “teachers are asking this or that …” … “students are complaining about one thing or another,” and all I can rely on at any given moment is their word that they indeed “speak” for the group they claim to speak for.

But having been there; done that, I know better than to take what they claim at face value. No … citing cold statistics does not necessarily impress me … but neither do blanket statements that start out by words like, “they say” … “people say” … etc.

Today, the good Lord is not impressed by statistics either. Generalizations simply won’t do as far as he is concerned. Obviously, he does not set out to know what is the trend of public opinion, or what the Social Weather Station (or the Gallup Poll, as the case may be), says about him.

Mind you, his question is not a “what!” He did not want to know “what” people thought of him. He did not want to find out the “what” about public opinion in his regard. His question is a “who!” His question is as personal as it can get. “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Impersonal questions are easy to answer, come to think of it! Such questions do not demand any personal investment from whoever proffers an answer. All one needs is to start out saying “they say …” “people tell me …” or just like the glib answer of the disciples, who did not need to do any scientific survey to give a ready response to: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

Hmmm … could there be a more non-committal answer than that? Could there be a more easy reply to a very easy question than this? One does not need to do a Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot to come up with such a glib, but actually, useless answer.

This is the sort of fare we are exposed to every day. Investigation upon investigation depend almost solely on personal testimonies, not documentary evidences. The so-called “trial by publicity” has become common place in our very litigious society – and all it takes to destroy a person’s name forever is the equivalent of the statement that begins with “they say …” “people say …” “I heard …”

The case of the Pajero bishops, deridingly referred to as the “Pajero 7” is one clear example. There was not a single Pajero involved, but the damage has been done. More than half the Filipino people believed what some irresponsible media practitioner invented.

Today, the Lord waxes personal. He won’t settle for second-hand information. He won’t have any “hand-me-down” piece of trivia that won’t make demands on the person who gives an answer. He takes the disciples to task. He wants them to be fully responsible (response-able) for what the question really asks for.

And what, at bottom, does it really ask of us, his disciples now?

We don’t need to do a whistle-blowing stunt, like it is the fad in our country nowadays. We don’t need to be a spokesperson for any grouping, or to be an apologist for any one. We don’t need to do a Gallup poll or an SWS survey to assert something that really ought to spring from deep inside everyone’s heart.

The question does not ask for a “what.” The question probes the heart and tests the soul … “Who?” The question, furthermore, is not one that seeks what “others” say, or what the public opinion is all about. The question goes direct for the jugular of the interlocutor …

Yes, it all about “you” and “me.” Yes … you! Yes … me, too!

We’ve had enough of surveys. We’ve had more than our fair share of what they bandy about on a daily basis, like the “fact” that the majority of us Filipinos are really in favor the Reproductive Health bill; that the majority are for this or for that. They all point to “they.” They all cater to what “others” say.

Let’s see the picture for what it really is. Faith is not about majority opinion. Belief in God, and a personal love for Him are not decided on by surveys and numbers. Commitment to God and dedication to what is right is an eminently personal task. And today, the Lord takes us to task and asks us: “You … Yes, you … who do you say that I am?”