There is an interesting question in today’s Gospel: Who do you say that I am? Have you ever tried to answer the question, who do you think Jesus is? Down through the centuries, there have been a thousand answers. Jesus, in fact, has been a living Rorschach test. Everyone tends to see Him as they are, as they want Him to be, as they need Him to be.
Some would have Jesus lite: Jesus is our buddy, our friend. He is sweet and non-judgmental, a “live and let live” kind of guy. A heck of a nice fellow, but not one who, in the long run, really inspires you. And certainly not someone you would die for or live for.
A few years ago there was a national study of youth and religion. Over 3,000 teenagers were interviewed. It was found that teens are not hostile toward religion because they have no reason to be. And, except for the Evangelical kids, they said religion was no big deal.
They said that Jesus is not a big deal, and, although He is an important person, He is not very strong, not very challenging or demanding. He is an easygoing Jesus. He is love, forgiving and generous. Bottom line, you couldn’t ask for a nicer guy. I have to wonder, just who is this Jesus, this sweetheart of a man? He is nothing like the Gospels tell us.
For the most part, the youth I know are passionate. They want to make a difference. They do not want to be simply told to go to Church. They want a hands-on experience of feeling the power. They want authenticity.
Look at the youth day in Brazil a few years ago: three million of them flocked to Pope Francis. He stands for something they want, a hero who points the way. He shows us the real Jesus. The Jesus who is counterculture, brave, strong and determined, or He would never have endured His excruciating passion and death. And after His resurrection, He proudly wore His scars as a sign that the Kingdom of God is won with a lot of sweat.
Jesus is about a way of life. He is about the decisions we make in business and school. He is about honesty, caring, and concern for others. He is about ethics, fidelity, and the truth. He is about making relationships work, and about keeping one’s word.
Jesus is about life here and hereafter. He is principled, as well as merciful; demanding as well as forgiving. He desperately wants us to grow to be decent, to be saints, and he will settle for nothing less. That is the Jesus of tradition, of the Gospels, and quite different from the rose-colored image of Him.
If we do not have this kind of Jesus who is worth dying for, then He is not worth living for, either. Some of our young people have not met this Jesus. I wonder if we have.
Who do you say that I am? What would you say to him? How do you depict Jesus? This week I ask you to think about these questions. Does this Jesus excite you, challenge you? Does He make you nervous with His demands? Yet, at the same time, make you want to know Him? Follow Him and love Him? A lot rides on your answer to His question: who do you say that I am?
If you do not feel you know Him, try repeating the last three words of the Bible: Come, Lord Jesus.