Christ is searching for a personal response to him from the depths of one’s heart, moved by the unseen Father, to recognize the maximal presence of God in Jesus. Personal revelation —“Now I see who you are!”—brings one into contact with Life, for one is allowing oneself to be moved by the God of Life from within. Mere verbal answers, such as Peter’s, are inadequate. Unfortunately, with the development of doctrinaire and fixed answers to genuine questions, many people stop looking, wondering, discovering for themselves who this is.
The Jews at the time of Jesus had heavily political expectations about a Messiah, for he would deliver the Jews from political suppression, and make them a powerful nation. That is not Jesus’ task at all, as one sees in the Gospels and letters of the New Testament. Jesus is not the Messiah as expected, not a political leader, but something other, and far better. What that is, Who He Is, must be discovered for oneself.
In the Quran it bluntly states that anyone who says that Jesus is “the son of God” is blaspheming and should be punished by death. “Son of God” is one title given to Jesus by his first generation of disciples, as we can see from the letters of Paul and then from the Gospels. It is obvious that Muhammed did not recognize God in Christ, or he would not have given this murderous injunction. He finds the answer threatening and an affront to Allah, that is, to God as Muhammed understands God. A lesson here: Do not overreact to mere words about God. In the far wiser words of Kipling, “Be gentle when the heathen pray to Buddha at Kamakura.” Many are the ways to respond to God, and no one has a monopoly on it—not Jews, Christians, or Muslims.
Other phrases were also used to articulate the experience of divine presence in Jesus; the most precise or careful one is found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians (2:9): “In Him dwells all the fullness of divine reality bodily.” The words are more grounded in concrete experience than are simple labels such as “Messiah,” “Christ,” “Lord,” “Son of God.” There is nothing wrong with the Christological titles such as “Christ” or “Son of God,” but like quick answers, they may stop the process of inner searching that Christ seeks to initiate in us. “Who do you say that I am?” is meant to induce the process of wonder and searching, and not yield to easy, quick answers.
Jesus seeks to move us to an open search for God. Paraphrasing Wordsworth, we ask: Where are the searchers in Christendom? For centuries now, Christians have been bogged down in doctrinal answers, and stopped searching for God.This means that many of us have preferred stale bread to living Bread. The God who creates all that exists, the God whose loves has neither beginning nor end, wants us to “enter the dance,” to engage in an active search for the One moving us to search. Is that so difficult to grasp? No, but many people prefer to wade in shallow waters rather than to risk all by launching out into the deep.
As we read in St. John’s Gospel (5:39-40): “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life, and yet these bear witness to me; you refuse to come to me, that you may have life.” We are being drawn to respond to the living God, not to rest in quick answers, labels, books, doctrines. The questions are real and searching; our answers are often too easy, familiar, comfortable.
“Who do you say that I am?”