Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Who Do You Say That I Am?" (Mt. 16:15): Discovering One's Self and the Christ Within Through Relationship

In today's Gospel reading from daily Mass, Jesus poses the question to his disciples, "who do you say that I am?" At first glance, it is very tempting to see this question as a "pass" or "fail" test of the disciples. Is Jesus asking a question that he already knows the answer to or is he genuinely interested in hearing about the disciples take on his life? How we answer this question has much to do with our presumptions concerning Jesus. Do we believe that Jesus had "infused knowledge" of his person and mission from very early on, or, rather, did Jesus have to "learn" about his identity and purpose over time? If we take scripture seriously that Jesus was human in every way except sin, than we necessarily have to opt for the latter.

There's no question that Jesus had to learn about his Hebrew faith from Mary and Joseph. Likewise, he learned a trade (carpentry) from Joseph. If Jesus had to "acquire" these aspects of his identity and person, than it is reasonable to also postulate that Jesus had to come into the awareness that he was the Messiah, or Christ. This was not automatic for him (just as our identity does not come automatically for us!) In posing the question that Jesus did in today's Gospel, it is at least somewhat likely that he was struggling a bit to understand the precise nature of his identity and mission. Up to this point in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus' ministry has met with mixed reviews: the poor, blind, lame, hungry, thirsty, sinners and ostracized have received him with open arms; however, those who should have recognized him (the Pharisees, Saducees, and Scribes) have in large part rejected him and are even beginning to conspire to get rid of him. If Jesus was fully human than it is likely he must have had at least an inkling of doubt! In the face of his own questioning, Jesus turns to his trusted disciples. They are the one's he choose to be his closest confidantes and partners, they are the one's who are supporting him by remaining with him when so many others have turned away. The question Jesus asks is likely not a mere test, rather, he is simply following the truly human path of seeking out his self through openness and vulnerability in relationship.

The question Jesus poses gives us a priceless lesson on what it means to be fully human and to acquire an authentic sense of self. A robust sense of self cannot be acquired through rugged individualism; rather, it is only reached, touched, embraced, and, gifted by being open and vulnerable enough to see it reflected in the eyes of others. At some level do we not all desire to pose the question, "who do you say that I am?" to those who are near and dear to us? And do we not hope to hear, "you are my friend", "you are valued," "you are unique," "you are gifted," "you are my beloved," "you are my brother, sister, mother, father, lover," etc. However, what oftentimes gets in the way of posing such deep and profound questions is our fear of what someone might say, good, bad, and indifferent. Given many of our broken histories and experiences of pain, rejection, abandonment, and loss, it may be just as difficult to hear that we are beautiful, valued, and loved, as it is for someone to gently remind us that we are fragile, wounded, broken or at times difficult and challenging. Yet to have our truest self drawn out from the depths, and to have the Christ affirmed and drawn out as well, we are called to the adventure of discovering ourselves through relationships of openness and vulnerability. Pat, TOR