Jesus asks his disciples two very important questions in today’s gospel. Both of these questions go to the very heart of their relationship with him, and their understanding of who he is in their lives.
“Who do people say that I am?” he first asks. On the surface, he seems to be asking them what other people think about him. In essence though, the question was really directed to the disciples whom he had in fact sent earlier on to preach the message he gave them.
What he really meant to ask the disciples was therefore: “What have others come to believe about me, on account of your witnessing to my message?”
Our relationship with Christ is always measured by how much others who come in contact with us, learn about Jesus himself. Our way of thinking, speaking, and acting always serve as a means by which others learn who Christ is. A disciples’ life is always meant to be a reflection of Christ.
But Jesus asks a second question: “Who do you say that I am?” There is no surface reading to this question. It goes right away to the heart of the disciples’ relationship with him.
While the disciples were given a task to preach the gospel, that task would only be meaningful, if they themselves knew Jesus in the most personal and profound way. Only those who know Christ well can truly bear witness to him.
It’s never enough to know what other people have said about Jesus. A person may be able to pass any examination on what has been said and thought about Jesus; he might have read every book about Christ written in every language on earth and still not be a Christian.
Christianity does not mean reciting a creed; it means knowing Christ, in the most personal and intimate way.
Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus must always be our own personal discovery, our binding of our selves to him, our personal choice. Our faith, no matter how generously and lovingly it may have been handed down to us by our family, our education, and even our church, will remain a superficially-planted reality in our lives unless we ourselves choose to make it our very own.
To each one of us, therefore, Jesus comes asking, not, "Can you tell me what others have said and written about me?" but, "Who do you say that I am?" He isn’t asking us what we know about him or how much we know about him, but who he is to us, and what he means in our personal and individual lives.
Our witnessing to Christ will only be genuine and meaningful, if we have a personal relationship with him, if we know him in a deep and personal way. What we know about Jesus, and how well we know him, eventually lead to what others know about him through us.