I get to visit a lot of people’s homes. I have seen a pretty big spectrum of interior décor. In many homes that I visit – particularly of older parishioners – there is almost always some picture of Jesus, Mary, Jesus and Mary, the Last Supper, Christ on the Cross, or a Good Shepherd. Beautiful, pious representations of Christ in a faithful Christian home. Perhaps you have one or more of these pictures yourself.
When I went through seminary, we all had our own images of Jesus in our rooms – favorites of ours that helped us pray and comforted us when that mean old professor glared at us. Some had a forlorn, suffering Christ with eyes turned heavenward; some had Christ knocking at a door; some had a simple young man with tussled hair smiling out at me.
We all have our favorite image of Jesus – “my Jesus,” we could call Him. In the film, “Talladega Nights,” there is a scene of a racecar driver and his family sitting around the dinner table, praying to their “favorite Jesus.” “Dear, sweet Baby Jesus, with your golden diapers, and balled-up fists, but still omnipotent…” The rest of the table then tells how they like to picture Jesus as a rock star or a ninja. The point is that we all have our self-formed picture of “our Jesus” – whether as a baby at Christmas, a Good Shepherd, a social justice champion, a victor over sin.
The truth is that Jesus is all these things – and more. And because of that, He is none of these things. I mean that Jesus is not here for us to label and then put to our own use. We may want “Black Jesus,” or “Hispanic Jesus,” or even “light-haired-blue-eyed Jesus.” We may want Him to be the champion of my cause or of those folks. We would like to think that Christ wants me to have a great house, impressive car, and perfect health.
But these things say more about me than they do about Jesus. Our expectations are dangerous – for ourselves and for Jesus. How often do we build up an expectation only to have it destroyed, and we become bitter toward others or God? Jesus does not want this. So, when He asks the disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” He is not looking for how He is supposed to act; rather, He is feeling out the disciples on the one question that matters: “Who do you say that I am?”
The question is not “who do you want me to be?” or “who do you wish that I was?” Instead, Jesus is asking the disciples – and us – if they really know Him. He’s not looking for theories, ideologies, agendas, or marching orders. He wants to know if we get it yet. He wants to be known as the Jesus who came to save the world from our sins; who was born in a stable; who identifies with the outcasts; who will ultimately suffer and die for that salvation that we all desire.
In recent weeks, we have witnessed identity politics and arguments over the soul of our own nation. Who do we say that we are? Some have one answer; others have another. But we are not here for politics. We are drawn here by the same Jesus who asked the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” The Christ is the one whom we seek to encounter in our lives. We find Him in the lost and forsaken of our world; we find Him in the discarded immigrant and refugee; we find Him in the homeless and the poor; we find Him in the forgotten elderly and the “inconvenient” in the womb; we find Him in the mother on welfare, and in the convict on death row.
Whether we like it or not.
Jesus is Jesus. No one can make Him otherwise – although we often try! When we realize that this question today is directed at every disciple, we must answer for ourselves – not what others say; not what we might wish; but we must answer based on a lived and honest relationship with Christ.
Jesus is Jesus – whether we like that or not. And that is the most wonderful thing He can be!