Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

And now we get to the good part....

There is a body of thought in psychology today that holds that when you dream, all of the characters in that dream are really you. Leaving aside the question of whether this is true, plausible or wildly erroneous, it illustrates a principle I wish to shed light upon, namely this: When we read Scripture, all of the characters to whom God speaks are, in one way or another, us.* When Christ calls X and says "Hey, X, stop doing that and follow me." He is really speaking to us, for us to stop wasting time on irrelevant matters and follow Him.

This comes to a head in the passage from St. Matthew's Gospel (16:15-17), a passage I consider the pivotal moment in the Bible, the moment on which everything hinges. It may not be anyone's favorite (there are other passages I, myself, like better), or the most dramatic, or the most heart-rending. But it's the passage nobody can ignore. The Douay-Rheims version** of the Bible has it like this:

Jesus saith to them: "But whom do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.

The pin in the hinge of all Scripture is the question Jesus asks his disciples (and, by extension, every single solitary human being who has ever read or heard the passage) "But whom do you say that I am?" It's a question we can't ignore. It's also important that we pay ver-r-r-r-ry close attention to what Christ didn't ask. Notice he doesn't ask: "So, um, guys think I'm the Messiah or what?"

The question is not a yes-or-no proposition. The option to say "Nope, you don't look too Messiah-nish to me." is not available to us. It's like the difference between a true/false question and an essay question. Christ is asking us for an essay. Some people said (and will say today) that Jesus was a nice guy, a prophet, a whack-job, a political opportunist, a suicidal vagrant, a nonexistent figment of the imagination (or the conspiratorial nature) of the twelve apostles, etc.

As Christians, we know St. Peter hit it right on the nose. "Thou art Christ." Not only is this a result of our faith being given a voice, but also the result of a validation of applying ourselves to pondering the matter with diligence. We can safely reason, f'rinstance, that if Christ was merely "a nice guy" he would not gone on and on about His divine nature, calling Himself Lord of the Sabbath and forgiving the sins of strangers who never harmed Him personally (as only God could do) and all that divine jazz; the same goes for any halfway decent prophet***. If Jesus were a passenger on the Cookie Truck**** He wouldn't--couldn't!--have handled the traps placed before Him, like the woman-caught-in-adultery or paying the tax to Rome. All of the other possible answers melt away just as readily.

So this leaves us with the answer St. Peter gave...Jesus IS the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah. Which, in turn, puts us in something of a bind. Because if Jesus IS the Christ and we acknowledge as much, well, um, that means we have to pay attention to what He says and listen to those He sends forth (and, by extension, those appointed as successors to and by those He sent forth, etc.) and, as we all know that's not always so bloody easy or--and take it from me--so bloody convenient.

But once we realize that Jesus = Messiah, the toothpaste is out of the tube. We CAN'T act differently. Once you walk with Him on the road to Emmaus you can't unlearn His teachings because it would conflict with your plans to go partying-until-you pass-out for the weekend, or because helping the poor, sick, and homeless is, um, y'know, icky.

Once you realize what road you are walking, the only option you legitimately have is to walk boldly and with good cheer.


* No, that doesn't mean we have to start building an ark or fleeing to--or from, or both--Egypt, or anything like that. Get with the program.
** Sure it's a bit more frou-frou than the NAB, but I find it more poetic. If you want to read the somewhat drier NAB version, here ya go.
*** Can you imagine Elijah, Isaiah or Jeremiah telling people he was the begotten son of God? Well, me either.
**** I totally got this from Barney Miller.