(The Nationalist, 19 August 2005)
Imagine Jesus sitting beside you. He is a trusted friend. You hold no secrets from him. You can tell him anything, you can say anything to him. The openness and trust between you flows both ways. If he asks a question, you know you must answer truthfully. You cannot conceal or deny.
So he asks you a question, ‘What do people say about me?’ You do your best to say what people think. You say that some don’t think of him at all; some see him as the original social worker, or as a great teacher, or a revolutionary, or a religious fanatic with a death-wish. Some see him as the man who changed the world more than any other person in human history. Some wish he had never been born.
Maybe you have the feeling that his question is a lead-in to something bigger – and so it proves to be. He asks you what you think of him. That’s a difficult question. You know he doesn’t want an answer that you’ve read in a book, or a quotation from the Creed used on Sundays. You don’t want to offend him, but you don’t want to lie either. He wants simply to know what you think of him, the plain truth, nothing else. What do you say?
Jesus is probably not looking for an instant answer. He won’t mind if you take your time over it. But he is not one to be fooled by flattery or to settle for evasion. No cute hoor is going to pull the wool over his eyes. His question is not part of a test, still less an interrogation. But neither is it to be avoided. So what’s your answer to his question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’
Try to do it sometime. Spend some time alone in a quiet place and answer Jesus’ question. You don’t have to impress anyone, or to check your response against the “right” answer. Just be honest, that’s all.
The answer we give will tell us a lot about ourselves. (We become what we worship.) I don’t think Jesus would mind if we said we didn’t understand some of what he said and did, or even if we said we didn’t agree with it. To disagree with a person is to take them seriously. Honest dissent is better by far than pretended assent. Jesus is not looking for parrots but for real people. Much of his time, and his questions, were directed at getting people to think.
Could you give it a try sometime and ask yourself that question?
For those in a hurry: ‘To pray often is in your will, but to pray truly is a gift of grace’. (Saint Makarios the Great)