Friday, May 30, 2008

The Inescapable Question

And Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:15-16).

When Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” They answered, “Some say you are John the Baptist. Others say you are Elijah, or one of the prophets.” Unmentioned on this occasion were the many other epithets for Jesus circulating about Palestine -- blasphemer, madman, false-prophet, drunkard, glutton, and demon-possessed maniac!

One fact is undeniable: everybody talks about Jesus. Everybody has an opinion about who He is -- and the opinions are remarkably varied. In fact, the portraits of Jesus that have emerged throughout history make it difficult to believe that the same person is being described.

Authors have cast Jesus as a political revolutionary, a magician, a peasant unwittingly caught up in social revolution, a charismatic prophet foretelling the end of the world, a "marginal" Jew who challenged the teachings and practices of the religious leaders of his day, a spiritual master who overcame the humblest of origins to proclaim the gospel of love and forgiveness.

In a document published in 1984 by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, we are given no less than ten distinct methodologies for answering the Jesus question -- speculative, historical, anthropological, existential, social, Judaistic, religious, moral, personal, and denominational. In other words, each of these sources give us a different spin on who Jesus was…and is.

One person has said that assembling a portrait of Jesus is a bit like crafting a stain glass window. Each piece of glass contributes to the mosaic, but an individual piece can seem incongruous, even contradictory, compared with the piece beside it. And, many times, the glass of the "Jesus Mosaic" is highly reflective; revealing at least as much about the person assembling the picture as about Jesus.

The Jesus of the Middle Ages was a heavenly King who ruled benevolently over his subjects, much as earthly kings of that era saw themselves. The Puritan's Jesus was a fire-and-brimstone-wielding Judge who would have been quite comfortable in a long black frock and three-cornered hat. The Jesus of the late '60s was a long-haired dropout espousing Free Love, or a political revolutionary bent on overthrowing the Establishment.

More recent studies have portrayed Jesus as a disenfranchised figure struggling to find His way in a world in which the old rules no longer applied -- a compelling portrait in these days of nomadic searchers, running to and fro for a touch from God. Writer Tom McNichol said, “In the beginning God created man in His image, and ever since then, it seems, man has been trying to return the favor.” ("The Many Faces of Jesus" USA Weekend, 12\18\92, pg4).

We each must know Jesus for who He is and be transformed into His likeness, rather than molding His image after our way of thinking. The question of the ages remains for you and I to answer, “Who do you say that I am?” Your eternal destiny depends upon how you answer that one inescapable question.

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