Matthew 16:13-20

“No, Christ is not Jesus’s Last Name”

In the ancient world, and in many older translations of the Bible, it was not uncommon to hear the term “messiah,” or “christ,” being used to simply mean “anointed one.”  In fact, the words share a common definition in their respective ancient Greek and Hebrew: the word Christ comes from the Greek Christós/Khristós (Χριστός) and The Hebrew noun mašíaḥ is from the verb mashah or mashach (משח) which means “to anoint.”  Even the words “Christ” and “Chrism” (the holy oils used in sacramental anointing) have the same Greek root as well.  While these words are still around today, in the past “messiah” and “christ” linguistically functioned as a way to signify importance and were usually reserved for kings, priests, and prophets who had been ceremoniously anointed.

In the time of Jesus, stories of “messiahs” or references to them were common.  Whether it was a revered king, wandering prophet, high priest, or otherwise, there were dozens of well-respected, so-called “messiahs” back then.  However, while these words did garner respect in those days, their verbal significance is surely greater in a modern Catholic context.  For example, certain older translations of the Bible referred to major figures like Cyrus the Great and King David in the Old Testament as a “messiah,” but recently Catholics have come to use this term differently than its original form, and now reserve it only for Jesus, himself.  The Gospel story from Matthew 16:13-20 is likely one reason for this.

While the original definition of “messiah” as “anointed” has been largely forgotten in the context of modern religious conversations, the Apostles in the Gospel story we heard today would have been much more familiar with its archaic connotation.  In the story, when the Apostles finished speculating over the possible identity of the “Son of Man,” guessing the names of many known and respected “messiahs” of old, Jesus made the line of questioning more direct.  The discussion shifted from “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” to “Who do YOU say that I am?”  This is when Simon made the connection that this messiah, Jesus, was anointed by God, himself.

This moment is religiously, culturally, and linguistically significant for a few reasons.  Primarily, we are emboldened to proclaim, like Simon Peter, that Jesus is the Son of God.  In that moment Jesus affirms Peter’s courage and wisdom, gives him the keys to heaven, and creates the Catholic Church.  Also, I would wager that the colloquial usage of “Messiah” and “Christ” today has become synonymous with being God precisely because of this Gospel story (but let’s not also forget the very literal anointing of Jesus’s feet).  Whether or not it is the reason we use the terms differently today, this is the point in history where the terms “Christ” and “Messiah” no  longer simply meant “an anointed one,” but rather, “THE anointed one.”

Matthew 16:13-20