This question is just as important to us today as it was when Jesus asked his disciples the same question some two thousand years ago. The disciples response all those many years ago, of John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets, has multiplied and become more varied as is recorded in the many books written about Jesus and the 30,000 plus denominations who claim to follow him. There is also a vast array of pictures, paintings, documentaries, and movies. Through each medium, we are given a view of the Jesus of history or the Christ of faith, some emphasizing more the humanity of Jesus and others more the divinity of Jesus, and some a balance of both the human and the divine. Debate has continued as to whether Jesus was God or only human, or even has come to question if he ever really existed at all.
When I taught fifth and sixth grade students at Rosarian Academy, each Easter Season, I assigned my students the task of drawing a picture of the Resurrected Jesus. I quickly noticed a common characteristic of their artistic renditions: Jesus consistently did not have a beard. At first, I started to hand back the pictures to say they needed to add a mustache and beard, but quickly stopped myself. I realized I had made a mistake. This is how they saw Jesus from their perspective at their age.
The way we talk about and express Jesus may actually say a lot more about us than Jesus. The portrait I posted above is the Warner Sallman painting he titled, “Head of Christ”. I chose it because this was the portrait of Jesus I grew up and identify most with.
How can we come to, not know so much about Jesus, but actually know him? We need to do the same as Peter and the disciples did. We need to spend time with him. How do we do that today in 2021? We need to spend time daily in meditation and prayer with Jesus. We also need to be aware of his presence in our daily experiences. Jesus is with us in all we do, we just need to be recognize hiim with us. Jesus is present in our encounters with each other, for what you do to the least of my brethren, you did it to me (cf. Mt 25:40). We come to know Jesus by reading and meditating on the Gospels, the primary sources of the life and teachings of Jesus. Go back and read today’s account from Mark, and imagine yourself in the scene. Allow your senses to come alive.
We also come to know Jesus by going to Mass. His Word is proclaimed and if we go with hearts and minds open to encountering him, he will speak to us beyond the written word on the page but in the Word proclaimed by the minister of the Word. The Holy Spirit will reveal to us that which is hidden within his word, as he did with Peter who proclaimed that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus is present in the assembly gathered, in our prayers of petition and in his real presence, Body, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist that we receive. We have direct encounters with Jesus when we participate in the other sacraments as well. In our Baptism and Confirmation we have been conformed to the very being of Jesus such that we become an integral part of the Body of Christ. In Reconciliation, Jesus hears our confession, heals and absolves us of our sins through the priest. We also receive his healing touch in the Anointing of the Sick. Our acts of service are defined for those participating in Matrimony or Holy Orders.
We come to know Jesus in our service, in engaging ourselves in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We come to know Jesus through those who knew him by reading the lives of the saints and spiritual writings. Jesus is also present to us in our sorrows and joy, our defeats and our triumphs, and we experience him more deeply when we enter into, instead of running from, our conflict and pain, ask him for help and guidance, as well as, thank him for our triumphs. Our deepest encounter with Jesus is in our openness to receive and share his love.
Jesus is already with us, he loves us more than we can ever imagine. We just need to open the door in all experiences of our lives and let him in. As we do so we will come to develop a relationship with Jesus, know him, his will for our life, and experience joy and fulfillment in our life. For our relationship with Jesus will lead us to the relationship we have been created for, to be one with God and one another.
Place yourself in today’s Gospel. Feel the heat of the day, feel the rough material on your skin, allow your senses to come alive as you see the disciples gathered around you, and then turn your head as you hear the question, “But who do you say that I am?” You hear some say John, Elijah, or a prophet. Then Peter proclaims, “You are the Christ” (Mk 8:29). Do you agree with Peter? Who do you say that Jesus is? This is an important question to meditate upon this Lord’s Day and through the week.
Painting: “Head of Christ” by Warner Sallman, 1940