What first struck me about this gospel passage is its context. Jesus and the disciples were walking to Caesarea Philippi which was at a distance from Bethsaida where they had spent some time. (If my research is correct, it is a journey of approximately 20 miles.) It was during this lengthy trek that Jesus posed the question. It could have been that this was a time when they were truly alone and without distraction, and thus it was appropriate for Jesus to have the discussion with them. But it also made me wonder if there is something to the aspect of being on a journey which is important as to the reason He chose this particular time for such a question. Both of these possibilities are important to consider as we ask ourselves the same question. Who do we say that Jesus is?
Similarly, our lives are a journey from God and back to God with a lot of twists and turns in between. It is important that along the way we hear Jesus ask who we think He is in order to be in touch with the great graces, especially those of His mercy and love, which He is offering us. He asks the question not to test us and not because He is out of touch with our faith in Him, but rather because He wants us to hear our own answer. Jesus was not asking the apostles because He wanted to know what the latest gossip was about Him. He already knew that they had a sense that He was greater than John the Baptist and Elijah. He also knew they were understandably confused. Therefore Jesus seems to ask the question more for their sake than for His own. He wants them to hear their own reply in order that they might grasp who it was that they were with. He wants them to come to know who He is: by challenging them with the question they have to wrestle with the answer.
It is also important that we look to the holy ones who have gone before us. They can show us a way to imitate Jesus and also of recognizing Jesus in those who are around us. The first and best example of this is Mary, the mother of Jesus. It was her openness to God and God’s plan which made her a perfect choice to be given the great gift and task of being the mother of His own Son. Mary had to have a sense of what it meant that He was the Son of God so that she could be a fitting mother to Him. Simply knowing His identity was not enough. She needed to grow in understanding of what it meant that Jesus was God and man. Luke tells us she continually pondered things in her heart as she struggled to understand the deeper meaning of the mysteries of her Son’s life. Just because she was His mother and was without sin does not mean she had perfect understanding. Therefore, we can learn from her that pondering who He is remains a life long journey.
Another important point raised by Jesus’s question is whether we can discern His presence, learning to recognize Him when He is ‘in one of His more distressing disguises,’ as Bl. Teresa of Calcutta was fond of saying. We need to know who He is such that we are able to recognize Him in the poor and the downtrodden, the lonely, the marginalized, and all the beloved of God. Do we know who He is when He comes to us as one who is in need or maybe even in someone who is challenging, one who we do not care to be around? Do we welcome His presence in our own hearts? If He has a home within our heart, then we will come to experience the depth of His love and mercy for us, which we can then extend outward to others. We are not intended to understand all the intricacies of the mystery of who He is, but we are intended to know that He is love, a love which never is extinguished and which always yearns to heal us and our world, a love which longs to have us with Him forever, a love which sees us as beautiful, and a love which desires nothing more than that we accept His love and try to love Him back.
May we be inspired by the Holy Spirit to continually seek Jesus so we might better know who He is and how greatly He loves us! May we spend the time in prayer which we need in order to come to know the Gospel message taught by Jesus so we can better incorporate it into our lives! May we realize how greatly we are forgiven, graced, and loved so that we might be inspired to pass it on to others! May we come to recognize Jesus, especially when He comes ‘in His most distressing disguise,’ in the poor and forgotten, the needy and wounded! And may we respond in love to all those who are in need of coming to know Jesus! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first and last photos are mine. The first was taken in west Texas and the photo at the end of the post was taken while in southern New Mexico.
The next two works are by Fr. William Hart McNichols. First is an image called The Galilean Jesus, found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-galilean-jesus-266-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The second is an icon called The Petrovskya Icon of The Mother of God and it can be found at
Finally the last painting is The Burial of Lucy by Caravaggio. I chose this because St. Lucy was a martyr and I wanted to have an image depicting the sacrifice of the martyrs.