While each of the gospel writers has their own style, pace and priorities – each is a masterful storyteller. Each weaves the accounts and stories into a meta-narrative that reveals something about the person of Jesus and thus is revelatory about the person of God. If your only encounter with the gospels is here on Sunday – while any encounter is a good one – you’re missing the whole of the narrative, missing the ebb and flow. It is like trying to understand the beauty of a quilt by staring into one patch. The one patch is beautiful, the stitching elaborate, but you miss the larger pattern, the greater beauty.
Over the course of this summer, between Sunday readings, Mark has told of the miracle feeding of thousands, walking on the water, casting out demons, healing of a Gentile woman, restoring hearing and sight, more demands for signs, and the ongoing controversies with Pharisees and Scribes. Most of which was proclaimed between Sundays, but all leading to today’s narrative: “And who do you say that I am?”
Each miracle, healing, and encounter reveals something about Jesus and his mission, sent from the Father. But it is a slow reveal. There is no “the moment.” The slow reveal – and the slow uptake by the disciples. But that is not a surprise. Consider two healings that precede our gospel for today: the deaf man and the blind man – both were healed in stages. It is poignantly told in the latter story. After Jesus first laid healing hands, the man remarked “I see people looking like trees and walking.” After the second disposition of healing hands, the man could fully see. Sight came in stages.
It’s St. Mark’s way of telling that insight about our relationship to God also comes in stages. We witness miracles but we need time to process. We are challenged in our held faith and we need time to process. We want to know more – we demand signs of a more modern nature.
We are like the person told to go into a room and there on the other side of the room is a greatest of treasures. Once a day we are allowed to move from our position to cover half the distance to the treasure. What is revealed in that moment. One person understands that in covering half the remaining distance in each movement, one will never reach the treasure. Another understands, true… they will get close enough – even if they never fully arrive.
The disciples have been journeying with Jesus covering the distance to a treasure they don’t really understand, following a person that they don’t fully know. And then comes the question: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers: “You are the Christ.” Perfect answer….. sort of…. but in the next part of the story, Peter’s rejection of Jesus’ suffering let us know he sees “people like trees and walking.” He still does not fully know the person he follows – but he hangs in there. And over the course of a lifetime he moves halfway across the room in each step along the journey – more fully understanding, but never completely understanding.
A couple married 50 years, over the course of a lifetime together they move halfway across the room – more deeply knowing, but realizing there is always more to know and in which to delight.
A Franciscan friar vowed to the life for 50 years, each step in his vocation and journey, more fully understanding the life and his vows, but knowing the around the corner is a new lesson to reveal the richness of the life and the fraternity.
A faithful person sitting in the pew on a Sunday morning who has always thought “I need to spend more time reading the Bible.” Glancing over at their child’s picture book of Bible stories, peering at a familiar account, but seeing it anew and as though for the first time. The treasure is ever coming closer.
The child looking up from their book, smiling and telling their parent, “I love Jesus. Jesus loves me.” As simple as that. A lifetime to gather and fill in the details.
Each step makes it personal, each step allows us to answer the question about our spouse, our fraternity of Franciscan brothers, and all the important relationships in this life. Each movement halfway there. Never quite there. Ever willing to take the next step. Knowing that after each step, “And who do you say that I am” gains more insight and wisdom.
Never quite there. But close enough on some days to reach out and touch our Lord and Savior.
Our answer will never be enough, but then Jesus’ answer to his Father was once, for us all. It was the perfect answer.
Take the next step.