Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Who Do You Say That I Am? the Answer, Though Different throughout the Ages, Tells Us Not Only about Jesus, but about Ourselves. (Testaments)

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Who Do You Say That I Am? the Answer, Though Different throughout the Ages, Tells Us Not Only about Jesus, but about Ourselves. (Testaments)

Article excerpt

IN A SIMPLER TIME, THE Jesus People of the 1970s had it all figured out: "Christ is the answer!" A more cynical older generation would reply, "Yeah, but what's the question?"

Each generation has a similar initial enthusiasm for the person of Jesus. "Jesus is the best trip," the high-on-life Jesus Freaks of the '60s would insist. Charismatic Catholics, emerging in the same era, got positively Pauline in claiming: "Jesus is Lord!" In the '80s, youth groups declared, "Jesus rocks!" The word on the street in the '90s was: "Jesus rules." I'm not sure what the precise lingo is for the new millennium, but I'm sure they'll come up with something before 2010.

Does any of this matter? Pope Paul VI thought it might. He once pondered the situation aloud by saying, "Is it perhaps the time for Jesus slogans? ... Jesus is always in fashion because he is always real." Declaring what Jesus means for us doesn't make him more real, but it helps to crystallize our experience. The stewardship of naming things was first given to Adam, and naming remains the way we establish relationship and a sense of belonging. Are we Americans, Christians, Catholics, and in what order? When we say who Jesus is, we also say who we are.

Pop culture attempts to fill in the picture and presents us with the highly conflicted Jesus Christ Superstar, the clown Christ of Godspell, the black Christ of The Gospel According to the Angel Julian, the urbane Jesus of Nazareth, the likeable local boy of The Cotton Patch Gospel, and the saccharine Jesuses of countless made-for-TV movies. Each generation struggles with naming, claiming, and proclaiming the Christ who is most real for them. Each one of us, too, goes through the same process more personally.

The original disciples were no different. They had to answer the inquiry Jesus put to them the same as we do: "Who do you say that I am?" It was a thought-provoking question, and they were never very good at answering more than yes or no in the best of circumstances. They had already followed him all around Galilee, not knowing who they were following or why. They knew the usual responses people were proposing: Jesus was John the Baptist, or the prophet Elijah, or was it Jeremiah, or one of the others?

But nobody knew for sure who Jesus was or what he intended to do with the movement gathering around him. While 11 of them were conferring in mutual confusion, Peter blurted out a reply: "You are the Messiah, the son of the living God!" Jesus calls his answer inspired. But Peter, unhappily, makes the same mistake we all do. He pays lip service to the right answer and promptly shows his true colors when he rejects how Jesus interprets what will happen to God's son when he gets to Jerusalem.

THE QUEST TO NAME JESUS ACCURATELY AND HONESTLY encompasses the rest of history and its inhabitants, believers and nonbelievers alike. Saint Thomas Aquinas, the great architect of Catholic theology, called Jesus the perfect mediator between God and humanity. Nineteenth-century Protestant theologian Horace Bushnell named Jesus the "poor man's philosopher, the first and only one that has appeared."

But before we relegate the matter to the theologians, we should also note who else has weighed in with an answer. Jesus is "a great revolutionary" (Fidel Castro); "a first-rate political economist" (George

Bernard Shaw); "the foundation of my life and my strength" (Johnny Cash); "God's challenge and invitation" (author and storyteller John Shea). Shea also insists that Jesus not be relegated to the role of "divine hero," which would merely evoke our thanks and not our earnest response in action. Yet Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins thought differently: "Our Lord Jesus Christ ... is our hero, a hero all the world wants."

Mary Baker Eddy saw Jesus as the "most scientific man that ever trod the globe" and not surprisingly went on to found the Christian Science movement. …

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