There is much that comes to mind when reflecting on this passage. I tell the candidates that this is the central question of all four gospels. Is it? John does not have Jesus asking the question. Maybe that’s because John’s gospel is loaded with “I am” proclamations. But it is central for the three Synoptics. Matthew, Mark and Luke spend their entire gospels trying to answer the question. We spend our entire Christian lives trying to figure out the answer as well.
So my personal question is “Who is Jesus for me?” And I will try to give my personal answer here (rather than go off on some safe, impersonal theological discourse). And my expression of this personal answer might be different in an hour or in a day or in a year. Often times I don’t know the answer because I don’t stop to think about how to give an answer. Jesus is the historical person who was so open and honest with people that he called them to live and to be better. He lived this in such a way that they (and I?) saw the Holy through him. He is the person who, when he was crucified as a criminal, could not be accepted as a criminal by those who knew him, especially his closest companions. They came to believe that he was very different. But I suspect they didn’t realize that at the time of his death. Then they were simply filled with grief, like so many are when a loved one passes into new life.
But the story is that they came gradually to see that he was, in some way or another, still with them. And they tried to express that in many ways. “I have seen Jesus and he is my Lord! He proclaimed a wonderful message that God loves you and me and everyone with no exception, with no limitations, with infinite forgiveness of our inability to ever do enough!” Then they tried to elaborate on that with “He is risen!” and all of the expressions both in word and in deed that have followed.
I still am not sure who I say he is. I am not sure why I continue to feel the call of Jesus’ moral commands. I tell people that it is because I know deep within that Jesus is Lord. But I don’t know what that means for me. I celebrate that he was raised. But I don’t know what that means for me. I am involved in the catechumenate in order that others may answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” ever more clearly in their lives, but I don’t know what that means even when I see it in them and hear them proclaim it.
We are transformed. Is it more than a feeling? It is if and when we try to live the Christian life. It all comes down to this. Why do you do what you do? And that is why I’m not sure what my answer is. It is never enough. Neither my words or my deeds are anywhere near adequate to answer the question. But Jesus’ message is that they are and they aren’t. It is because any response, so far as it is an attempt to do what is good and life giving and life sustaining and that brings joy into others life, and perhaps into mine, is good. It is never enough because I fall short of meeting the standard that is packed into the words of Peter’s response “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” That is why I pray yet know that I can pray “better.” That is why I do what I do (sometimes) and know that I can do better.
My personal frustration with being a follower of Jesus, a follower of a person who leads me, in some mysterious way, to the Holy, is that whatever I do is never enough. For some people that is a reason not to be part of “a religion.” You are never good enough. But with Christianity that doesn’t matter. None of us gets “there,” gets to fully see and touch the Divine. That is what it is to be human.
Thoughts like these are theological meanderings. They are what is expressed in the basic, primal, first witness accounts that Paul’s letters embody and that are set down in the Gospel stories. They are what is expressed in the creeds and in all of the theological and mystical expressions down through 2,000 plus years of pondering like I am doing here. They are what led Karl Rahner, for example, to talk and write so much about grace. They are what preachers try to express to us in every homily and sermon.
And acts of kindness and love (be they random or not) are how we physically express these thoughts. This is where the letters of James come in. They and the Gospels remind us that our Christian answers to “Who do you say that I am?” can never be only cerebral responses. We must put our faith into action. That is what I try to do and what I fall so short of doing.
Thank you God, who is revealed through Jesus, for helping me do and try to do. And thank you for the knowledge that my failings are forgiven and that I am loved even when I do not love enough. Thank you for the knowledge and belief that love is always stronger than death.