There are lots of things about our Faith that I heard/inherited/was taught. The classic from the Baltimore Catechism was (Q.) Why did God make you? (A.) God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. I have known the answer to that question for more than 60 years. It is a great question and Sr. Mary Lawrence assured me it was the perfect answer.
The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke offers some great insight on great questions. He said: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves…do not now seek the answers [to questions you are now unable to live. Live with the question and maybe, one day you will live into the answer].”
60 years later, I still know the perfect answer, but I can also look back and know that there was much about the question that remained unsolved, unknown, and only decades later am I realizing what it means to live into that perfect answer.
In today’s gospel, Jesus invites the disciples to engage a question: “Who do you say that I am?” So…what do you think? Is this an “unsolved question” in your heart? Or is this a question for which you already know the answer? Perhaps, like Peter, we all might respond, “You are the Christ.” We might even go on to add “Lord, Redeemer, King, Savior, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” I don’t think the question would perplex us. But then again, we might wonder why we were asked in the first place.
When Jesus began the inquiry he first asked, “Who do people say that I am?” The answers offered up include John the Baptist or the Prophet Elijah. Interestingly, Jesus neither affirms nor denies any of their answers. He simply listens to them, allowing the disciples to offer up everything they think they know, based on other people’s answers. In a way, isn’t this where we all begin? Isn’t this the place where all exploration of faith begins, in naming what we’ve heard, inherited and been taught? Such answers, however true, cost us little or nothing. But, they don’t offer us much in return if there is no life within the answer.
That was the easy question, the beginning. The hard question is “Who do you say that I am?” It is a way of asking, not if you know the heard/inherited/taught answer, but have you really engaged the question? Is there part of the question that is unsolved in your heart? Is your answer one which is lived out across the breadth and width of your life? Have you lived into the fullness of your own answer?
It is easy to imagine Jesus, standing patiently in their midst through that long silence, waiting to hear what his closest friends will say about him. Do they know him? Have they learned to trust his heart and his words? Do they love him? We know that Peter jumps right into the deep end of the pool as he answers, “You are the Christ.” Perfect answer, right?
Peter’s answer is not praised. Instead, Jesus begins to paint a bleak picture of the coming persecution, passion, crucifixion, death, and the Resurrection. “You are the Christ” is just the start of the answer, as Jesus teaches the Apostles, there is much still unsolved in the question. I don’t think Peter agreed in that moment. But there is a long road in front of Peter in which he will slowly live with the question and live into the answer – as he journeys with Jesus, as he denies Jesus, as he is reconciled, and as he goes out on mission to proclaim “The Christ” to all the world.
I wonder if years later someone came to Peter and asked: “You knew Jesus. Who was he?” Maybe… Peter would slowly ponder the question and unhurriedly begin. “Jesus? He was the one who invited me to give up everything and follow him. I did and had no idea what I was doing. No real idea of who he was.”
“He was the one who bid me to come to him and walk upon the water. When I faltered, he was the One who pulled me from the depths of the sea. He was the one who taught the meaning of loving God and neighbor. He was the one who washed my feet and showed me a model of servant leader I never imagined. He was the one who said I would cowardly deny him when I was called to be brave. He is the one who found me on the seashore, loved me, healed me, and reconciled me. He is the one who sent me on mission to the whole world. He is the one, the reason I continue, even when I do not yet fully know the answer to your question.”
“Who is he? He is the Christ. All these years later I am still learning the complete answer as I live and experience the question.”
There are lots of things about our Faith that I heard/inherited/was taught. I know God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. I have known that answer for more than 60 years.
Yet there is still more unsolved in my heart. I am still called to live into the answers to the great questions of our Faith. For my own part, I think my imagined response from Peter as an older man was really my response.
Who do I say that Jesus is? He is the One, the reason I continue, even when I do not yet fully know the answer to the great questions. He is the perfect answer I hope to one day more fully know.