This is a question first posed by Jesus Himself when speaking to His disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”(Matthew 16, 13) and “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16, 15) The same query was also raised against the Pharisees, just before He finished His mission on earth: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”(Matthew 22, 42)
Jesus posed these questions because He wished to prove that all prophesies of the Old Testament were being fulfilled in Him, not in an anthropological way as the Pharisees were expecting, but in the way the Lord wished.
The Pharisees were expecting the Messiah to be the one, who was going to lead his people to glory; who was going to prove how special he was; who would be able to pass on the spiritual and secular authority to those who would receive him.
Yet Jesus speaks of the God-man nature of the Messiah. He says that He was not just a perfect man, a special person, but that God Himself assumed human nature. Therefore, whatever He was going to offer was not exclusive to the Jews but it would be a gift and a blessing to all men and all peoples, irrespective of time and human understanding.
This question is resurfacing nowadays. People, of course, are not specifically interested in Jesus. They see Him as a special personality; as someone who has taught people love, offered social assistance and created a religion. They also believe that people are consoled when they turn to this religion during difficult times, are having fun with the various customs and traditions and are able to turn a little inwardly and receive financial help and social assistance when needed. People regard the Church, the Bishops, the priests and the monks as the continuation of Jesus. At best they have something to gain from them. Otherwise they believe that Jesus and the Church are remnants of another era and that whatever anyone thinks about either of the two is up to them. Moreover they believe that the state and the government as social institutions ought not to have anything to do with either Jesus or the Church.
Yet, Jesus is present in the world and will continue to be present ‘forever and ever’. And He will continue to raise the question: ‘What do you think about Christ?’ He will keep reminding us among others, the three elements of His own consciousness, His own identity. He will call upon us to make them personal if we are to be distinguished as Christians. As St Simon the God bearer said during the Visitation, these elements will turn both Him and His followers into “a sign which shall be spoken against” (Luke 2, 34).
The first element is that He is God-man. This means that our human nature communicates with the Divine nature in Jesus. We do not believe in a principle, a sermon or a teaching about God, but in God Himself, Who is a person, Who has assumed human nature and leads us to deification and to the eternal communion with Him through the life of the Church. However, if we are to experience this path we must remind ourselves of the gifts and the graces we have received from Him, namely, our creation ‘in the image’ and our progress towards ‘the likeness’. This process, however, presumes that we will stop viewing this world and this way of life through human logic and our senses.
“I am not seeing God’. ‘God is a human invention’. These two phrases are often present in the mouths and hearts of many people nowadays. They have been enslaved in their logic and in the knowledge acquired through the senses. They are ignoring the fact that their hearts must be opened in order to meet with the Lord. They are opened through prayer, love, and trust and by overcoming their ego.
The second element is that Jesus did not promise us any power. He did not promise that we will be accepted by the world and others. Instead if we receive Him, we are called upon to proceed on a path which is and has always been the path of martyrdom. We suffer martyrdom because we are swamped by doubts, by the need to safeguard our rights and by worldly concerns. We are suffering because people hate Him, under the influence of the devil, and this hatred passes on to us. We are suffering because we are struggling to forgive, to avoid rejecting people and to stop blaming others. We are suffering by the assault of death in all its variations: death of the body, of the spirit, social death, material and spiritual death. These make one wonder whether God does exist. We are suffering because we are inundated with worldly concerns and with inadequate time to fulfill our ambitions. We are suffering because the powerful of this world are forcing us to abandon our faith with little in return. We are suffering the martyrdom of loneliness in a secular world, which does not need God. We are suffering intensely because it is in our nature to crave power, recognition and acceptance. Yet, this martyrdom also contains joy because of His assistance, His enlightenment and His presence. He empowers us to go on, if only we are to ask Him and place our trust in Him
The third element is that “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10, 36). We and other Christians have a weakness which prevents us from understanding one another. It prevents us from offering assistance to others, from proceeding together, from directing our life towards Jesus and towards love. Instead each one of us thinks differently and is not in a position to listen to his brother, to understand him and help him lift his cross. Each one feels lonely and is unable to offer the sacrificial love in the place of the prevailing selfishness. Each one is only interested in himself, in his daily routine, his thoughts, and his feelings and is unable to share his pain; neither lifts some of the burden off from others. This is where sin lies. Namely, we are only interested in ourselves, in our ‘ego’. This preoccupation fills us with passions, vices and despair. Instead of looking at our own trespasses we are focusing on those of others.
Christ represents a challenge. Who is He? The answer will help us redirect our lives either towards becoming true Christians, or towards thinking that we are Christians but in reality our hearts lay far away from Him. Christ wishes to be a personal God and a Savior for each one of us. A relationship with Him does not entrap one in time nor in worldly motions. He offers us the blessing to communicate with Him through love and to be saved along with the others, saints and sinners alike, without losing our own identity and without restricting ourselves in our selfishness. We need to work hard in order to remember that Christ asks us to return to the Lord and to start a relationship with Him. We need to struggle to realize that our lives will not always be full of joy and we need not falter in the face of all kinds of misery. Moreover our faith should not be shaken if others do not give us what we want.
Being a Christian, means to have faith, to seek Jesus as well as love. He will then come to our rescue, protecting us from the despair and fear caused by the raging beasts of this world, by sin and by the devil.
Corfu, 3 February 2013
Translated by Olga Konaris-Kokkinos
By Fr Themistocles Mourtzanos