The News Times, June 17, 1995

by Rev. Leo McIlrath


"Who do people say that Jesus is? Who do you say that he is?"

Do you recall this question asked by Jesus in Mark's gospel? And do you remember some of the answers that his followers gave to him? "Some say that you are John the Baptizer; others say Elijah or one of the prophets." And what about the follow-up questions: "Who do you say that I am?" Peter's statement of faith was the only response recorded: "You are the Christ, the Son of God."

His was a most interesting and important question for all people. Why? Because before positing faith in someone, we need to get to know that person fairly well. Certain characteristics that will draw us closer or repel us.

Perhaps the best way to know Jesus is to consider the portraits of him given in the Christian scriptures. Author Virginia Smith (Catholic Update, 1990) asks in her article, "The Four Faces of Jesus," "Which of the evangelist's pictures of Jesus speaks most clearly and most personally to you?"

Mark's harried, hurried, human Jesus: In Mark's account we meet the most human Jesus with whom we can easily identify. He is a person whose feelings are obvious and possibly much like our own. Someone once commented about Mark's description of Jesus' public life that if Jesus ever sat down, Mark failed to record it. He moves quickly from scene to scene always followed by a crowd.

Matthew's new Moses: Unlike Mark who wrote for mostly gentile followers, Matthew is interested in Jesus' origins and begins his account with a family tree, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Ruth, David and Solomon. Writing for a Jewish audience, Matthew draws parallels between Jesus and Moses. Jesus the leader and Jesus is the teacher who instructs the community with authority that comes directly from "his Father", in heaven.

Luke's compassionate, forgiving Jesus: Luke focuses on women, the poor, people with handicaps, public sinners and a host of people whom society often relegates to the fringes of the community. Only Luke tells the stories of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. From the crib to the cross, this Jesus offers and aura of kindness and peace. In his most trying moment on earth, Jesus prays: "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."

John's Jesus of great nobility: Jesus relates to individuals such as Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman, the man born blind and Lazarus (not the crowds of Mark.) John wants us to see Jesus' origins as divine, coexistent with the Father. (Jn 1:1) To the Pharisees, he says: "If you knew me, you would know the Father also." (8:9) and to Phillip at the Last Supper: "Whosoever has seen me, has seen the Father (14:9) This majestic figure portrayed by John is totally in control at all times, even to his own death (10:17)

The "Gospel According to Peanuts", by Charles Schultz of Charley Brown fame, also the same question "Who do you say that I am?" and goes on to answer through a variety of personages, such as philosophers, playwrights, scientists, teachers, athletes, politicians, etc. Each responds to the question according to what he/she had heard Jesus say and seen him do (in the gospels.)

Sister Virginia Ann Froehle, R.S.M., in her article, "Images of Jesus" (St. Anthony Messenger, 5/95) writes about the very different ways in which Christians over the world and throughout the centuries, conceived of Jesus and how they involved him in their lives. Good Shepherd, Universal Judge, Child in the Manger, Victorious King, Visionary Mystic, Suffering Lover, Agonized Christ and the Little Buffalo Calf of God are among the images given.

In his much proclaimed two volume work, "Catholicism," Fr. Richard McBrien of Notre Dame asks: "Which Jesus is it who won the hearts of people and is now preached in all of our Christian churches? Which Jesus is the norm of conscience who sets the example for a truly Christian life?" McBrien follows with a description of each of the main images of Jesus which he divides into categories: Rabbi, Teacher, Judge, King, Ruler, Holy Man of God and Priest-Mystic, Liberator and Social Worker, Brother and Companion.

McBrien advises his readers that we should not exaggerate only one function or role of the lord, Jesus. He is both immanent and transcendent, the babe in the manger and the One who will come upon the clouds to bring us and our loved one's home. He cares for us on earth as he does for those in heaven. Virginia Smith summed it up this way: "All of these images re representative of the same individual, Jesus the Christ. The Gospel accounts form a prism, a clear medium through which the pure light of Christ can be refracted in diverse and beautiful ways." Now, who do you say he is?

The Rev. Leo McIlrath, CORPUS Community.