By Brian Niemiec
Who do you say that Jesus is? That was the first question I was ever asked in spiritual direction. This passage – “but who do you say that I am?” – is one that I have never been able to answer sufficiently. Peter had the easy way out, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” If I were the first one to proclaim that, I would have gotten the keys too. Now I say it because people told me. It isn’t a personal revelation, but a formula we have come to use in describing Christ over the centuries. Theologians and devoted women and men of faith alike have spent their whole lives cracking open this question. They have explored the question of humanity and divinity in Christ, wrestled with the great Paschal Mystery of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and professed with faith the same words Peter spoke a millennia ago.
Yet, none of them have ever grasped the whole answer to the question. No one has said who Christ really is, and that is because Christ is more than we can ever possibly say. He is more because God is more. To quote a favorite professor of mine, God is always bigger than our image of him. God always surprises us with something new and different.
This is not the same thing as saying that God is everything. There are certain things God is not. He is not hateful and vindictive. He is not selfish or jealous. He does not act with vengeance and greed. We know this because God has revealed himself, and has revealed himself most fully in Jesus Christ. In Christ we are shown a glimpse of the total otherness of God, and nowhere is that vision more striking than when he who was without sin suffered and died so that we may rise to eternal life with him. The otherness of God, or maybe the ever newness of God is a better phrase, must be approached over and over again.
Now, to turn the question on us, who do we say that Jesus is? How is Jesus bigger than who we think he is? For example, many of the undergraduates at my university say that to be a good Catholic you must follow the simple message of Christ: be a good person. On the one hand, of course, they are right. Jesus does call us to do what is good. Yet this phrase is so ambiguous that it fails to truly challenge us. You can be good father, but completely ignore the homeless person on the street with a family of his own. You can be a good friend and still bully the classmates you don’t like. You can be a kind and loving person to some, and then treat others like something less than human. We do this all the time.
People, though, are often blind to parts of their lives. We choose to view the world from the comfort of our already set worldview, and the minute we become complacent with this question is when we have put God in a box. God is always bigger than what we think him to be, and because of that, God is always challenging us to go deeper into his mystery. This question cannot stop with “you are the Christ, the son of the living God.” That profession of faith is only the beginning.
So, who do we say that the Son of Man is? How is he at work in our lives? At work? At school? With our friends and family? And how is he calling us to live in the world? How are we going to bring the love and light of Christ into the world this day? I can tell you that the answer will be different than what we thought yesterday. This week, pray and listen, so God may become bigger in our hearts and minds, and we can live more fully as Catholics in the world.