Over time we have made up games that seek to answer the question of “Who am I?” Whether it is 20 questions, What’s My Line, To Tell the Truth, or other similar games, we search for clues to help us to guess the hidden identity of someone we should know. Perhaps at Caesarea Philippi the disciples of Jesus thought that Jesus was playing a similar game with them when he put to them the question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” At first, the disciples consult their memory and their intellect and examine what others have said and taught over time. They come up with some pretty good guesses that all have a kernel of truth in them. I suppose today we would just “google” the Son of Man and see what the search engines could come up with or we might consult Wikipedia and see what has been written about the Son of Man. Whatever we would learn would not reveal to us the fullness of the truth of who the Son of Man is.
Jesus takes the question to another level, a much more personal level, when he then follows up with the question, “Who do you say that I am?” This question would take the disciples out of their memory and intellect and would address their hearts. You can imagine each of the disciples asking themselves the challenging and very personal question, “Who is Jesus to me?” It would be something like what we experience when someone comes up to us and asks us if we have a “personal relationship with Jesus.” At first you don’t know quite what to say. We have had many different experiences of Jesus in our life and we have been told many different things by others in the world. What do I personally have to say about Jesus? My answer would probably reveal more about myself than about the truth of who Jesus really is. It seems like everyone has their own “personal Jesus” that they cherish more than the truth of who Jesus really is.
These questions that Jesus asks today point out our limitations in knowing another person. I can know what other people say about someone and I can have my own personal experience and opinion about who someone is but that doesn’t mean that I really know someone. The other person remains a mystery to me and the truth of their “being” remains hidden from me. I can turn that other person into an object for study or I can live in the tension of the mystery and admit that I really don’t know the other person. In the story, “A River Runs Through It,” the father, trying to understand the life of his son, concludes, “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.” Personal experience alone does not reveal to us the truth of another’s true being.
Earlier, Jesus gave the disciples a clue to where we can search to find the truth of who Jesus truly is. “At that time Jesus said in reply, “I give praise to you, Father, God of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” (Mt 11,25ff) To know Jesus, we must believe what the Father has revealed about him in his own testimony. At the time of his baptism, the Father testified to the truth that Jesus was his beloved Son. At the Transfiguration, the Father will again testify to his Son. Do we believe what the Father has revealed?
When Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus says to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”” (Mt 16,17) The knowledge that Peter has of Jesus is a knowledge of faith, believing what the Father has revealed. St. John writes in his letter, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him. In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith. Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? Now the testimony of God is this, that he has testified on behalf of his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has this testimony within himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar by not believing the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever possesses the Son has life; whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life.” (1Jn 5,1-12) Erasmo Leiva Merikakis writes, “”Re-velation” means the drawing back of a veil; and since this particular veil represents the necessary ontological separation between mere human knowledge and experience, on the one hand, and the mystery of the divine life, on the other, the only hand that can draw it back is that of God himself, when in his love he decides to admit certain chosen ones to the intimacy of his Heart and Life by the manifestation of his Face.” What do you have to say?