On the front of a church in Manley Beach, Australia, we saw a banner titled “Jesus Is ___.” Below the title were blocks containing many different responses to this question. Some answers were obviously from people who know and cherish Jesus; others were from people who don’t know much about him or who find him irrelevant.
Who Jesus is has been a question for a long time. John, the Jew who baptized persons for repentance before Jesus began his ministry, was in prison and heard about Jesus. The gospels of Matthew and Luke report that he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
It seems to me all four of the gospels are trying to help us grasp who Jesus is. Early church councils wrestled with who Jesus was and/or is. Today there are scholars engaged in the “quest for the historical Jesus.”
When Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth to teach and to heal, the people were astounded by his teaching. Yet they didn’t ask who he was because they assumed they already knew. He fit in a certain box—a carpenter, son of Mary, brother of James and others, a local boy. Instead they questioned the wisdom and power they heard and saw with him; they were offended and could not receive what he gave others.
A Russian man I met, who read the gospels when reading the Bible was illegal, found new life and a Christianity he chose even in the face of life-threatening risk. I know others who have found in Jesus meaning and purpose in life and hope in the face of death, when previously life had seemed like nothing more than a thin candle melting into nothingness, just waiting to be blown out.
What seems important is to ask the question—without a shallow formula or boxed-up assumptions.
Who do you say Jesus is?
What assumptions might you have (or have had) about who he is that block his power in your life?
By continual repetition of the Jesus Prayer at the edge of your awareness over a prolonged period, who Jesus is may settle in you in a nonverbal way—“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The shorter version is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”
For further reflection:
[Jesus asked his disciples,] “who do you say that I am?” (See Mark 8: 27-33).
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him” (See John 1: 1-18).