‘Who are you?’ is a question that can range from being bland to being quite threatening, depending on who is asking it. When Jesus asked Saint Peter ‘who do the crowds say that I am?’ he probably found that an easier question to answer than when Jesus looked straight at him and said ‘but you, who do you say I am?’.
For us, as Christians, if we can imagine Jesus looking straight at us, and asking the same question about who we say He is, then it can be a path of grace to a much deeper relationship with Him. We can find ourselves travelling along, living our faith at a certain level, not allowing it to go far into our core. Unless we challenge ourselves, or are challenged by others, we may find that we are living simply by an inherited faith, somewhat unexciting and pedestrian, something that may be seen more as an accident of our birth, part of our cultural background.
Jesus looks fixedly at Peter and says, ‘who do you say I am?’. Peter pauses, ponders, and evokes the statement that changes his life – ‘You are the Christ, the Son of God’. If we allow ourselves to sit in silence for a few minutes, imagine Christ in front of us and looking at us, and asking us who do we think He is; it could be a moment for us also, as we discover the truth of our relationship with Him. ‘Discover’ means to take the cover away, means to open up the truth of what is beneath. If our faith is to take a grip on us, we must move beyond seeing it as an abstract reality. Sometimes one sees a definition of faith as a belief in things unseen, or something like that. Better, faith is my personal relationship to Christ in prayer. That is another way of looking at it.
Faith can be seen as a state of being, what occurs when I pause and go silent, and open myself up to listen to Jesus, and to speak to Him in reply. It is that relationship that comes out of our hearts. It is what happens when I haul off, and give the time and space for encounter. ‘Be still, and know that I am God,’ says Scripture.
So the question Jesus puts to Peter, He can also put to us, and when we attempt to answer who Christ is for us, we may find that we are using titles that are old fashioned, and may not have much dynamism in them – terms like Master, Lord, Saviour. There is great meaning in these titles, of course, but they do not grip us at the depth of the title Jesus gave us, and gave Himself in describing His relationship to us, when He said, ‘I call you friends’. To be described as ‘a friend’ is a far deeper relationship, one that sets up a mutuality, such as friends have. A friend is another part of myself. A friend is someone who shares my soul. That may be why Christ chose that term as the best to describe how He and I stand in relationship to each other.
A relationship is like a garden. It has to be tended and nurtured. Otherwise the flowers will be overtaken by the weeds. We must give space and time for our Friend to be with us, to call us, to listen to us, to speak to our hearts.
Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ
Archdiocese of Adelaide
Bishop of Port Pirie Diocese