It’s interesting that Scripture offers not the slightest evidence about Christ’s physical appearance. We just don’t know what Jesus looked like — whether He was tall or short, thin or stout, or the way He walked. The Gospel writers did not portray Him as being five-feet-six or six-feet-five. We don’t know with certainty whether He was light-skinned or dark-skinned, large-boned or small-boned, muscular or frail. We don’t know the color of His hair or the color of his eyes. Clearly, the Gospel writers considered His physical appearance of no real importance.
But when we turn to Jesus’ emotional side, we have a much clearer picture. It is clear, from the Gospels, that Jesus did not put on an air of unflappability. He expressed His feelings, and often vigorously. He was angry with Satan’s persistent temptation. He was apprehensive lest His miracles be reported to the authorities. He was surprised at the Centurion’s strong faith in His powers. He was exasperated with the Apostles when they missed the point of His teaching. He was disappointed by the weakness of Peter’s faith. He was sympathetic toward the crowds who skipped meals in order to follow Him.
He shed tears over Jerusalem’s coming destruction. He expressed joy when Peter identified Him as Messiah and he expressed anguish over His Father’s will that He die for our salvation.
Christ always appears to be Himself — Himself in the fullness of His human intellectual, spiritual and emotional life.
Clearly, the Gospel writers wanted us to see Jesus as He really was. Jesus’ emotional side helps us to see Him as a humble “Servant,” as the “Man For Others,” as the “Good Shepherd,” as the “Man of Love.” It is in this context that the Gospel writers wanted us to see the Lord who holds before us the need to turn our world upside down and inside out, as True disciples.
Because part of being a True Disciple is to understand that the role of discipleship involves sacrifice, continual introspection and a life that matches the role of a disciple with the words of being a disciple. For our hope of glory is not that we will be able to live a trouble-free life. Rather, our hope of glory is that we will be able to experience, and embrace, the Living Christ in our daily, immediate lives. Our hope of glory is to let the Christ Spirit permeate our entire being: our mind, our body, our soul — and yes, our emotions. Our hope of glory is to let the Christ Spirit become more and more the Source of power and of light and of love in our lives. Our hope of glory is to let Christ shape our life and develop us into the beautifully fulfilled person our loving God intends us to be.
And our experience of the Christ Spirit dwelling within us inevitably evokes a certain response. In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul writes very beautifully and very movingly about the indwelling of the Christ Spirit: “God gave you new life in Company with Christ,” he says, (Col. 2:13). And as we read on, we discover that Paul has been leading up to a grand climax in which he tells us how to respond, emotionally: “clothe yourselves in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love” (Col. 3:12-14).
A few years back there was an all-too familiar story that made national headlines. A commercial airline flight cancellation resulted in a long line of travelers trying to get booked on another flight. One man waiting grew increasingly impatient. Suddenly, he pushed his way to the front and angrily demanded a first-class ticket on the next available flight. “I’m sorry,” said the ticket agent, “but I’ll have to first take care of the people who were ahead of you.” The irate man pounded his fist on the ticket counter, saying, “Do you have any idea who I am?” Whereupon, the ticket agent picked up the microphone and said, “Attention please! There is a gentleman at the ticket counter who does not know who he is. If there is anyone in the airport who can identify him, please come to the counter.” Hearing this, the man retreated, and the people waiting in line burst into applause.
Today’s Gospel Lesson includes the Apostle Peter’s answer to the question of Jesus’ identity. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Peter answers (Mt. 16:15-16). And it seems that Peter did not at first realize the full significance of his own confession. It wasn’t until the other side of Easter that Peter truly understood that Jesus is the Christ who has come to save us from sin, from bondage, from spiritual emptiness, and even from death itself.
But Peter answered well that day, but he can’t answer for you or for me today. Because there remains the necessity of a personal confession of faith. Each of us must make up our own mind about this Jesus and be willing to turn our lives upside down and inside out in our faith response to the question.
That exercise begins with our asking ourselves: “ Who do I say I am?” If we answer that in the context of our relationship with Christ then we are also provided with a template to evaluate ourselves. That template is inscribed with only one word . . . love. To understand the sheer significance of that word, we look first to Christ as the ultimate definition of love. There was no equivocation about his death on the cross. He died so that we might live. Isn’t that about as meaningful a statement of his love that could be? Isn’t that corpus hanging on that cross a visible reminder of that? Aren’t the stained glass windows in this Church that reflect the men and women who died for Christ a constant statement about how they emulated God’s love?
The issue that we face when discussing love as part of the equation that answers the question: “ Who do you say that I am?” is that the word “love” has lost some of its impact through its over usage. We even use the word “love” to describe how we like our food cooked !
We need to understand that love is not defined by words but rather by action. Because to use the word “love” without action is a distortion of the word. I am not interested in the words that tell me I am loved, even within my family. I am interested in those actions that tell me I am loved.
So we need to start with that realization – love without action is a non-starter. Then apply the concept of love, accompanied by action, to every relationship that surrounds you.
As a spouse or a partner, how often are the words “love” accompanied by significant action? Are you truly selfless in your relationship? Do you understand that sacrifice is an everyday occurrence? Do you recognize that marriage is a constant give and take and that sometimes it will seem that you give more than you take? And when you give, do you give of yourself joyfully and freely or from a sense of obligation?
What about your role as a father or mother, aunt/uncle, grandparent? When you evaluate how you have “loved” those children in your life, is that evaluation replete with sacrifice and selflessness – freely given? When your time to pass over is at hand, how will those children remember you – as a father or mother, aunt/uncle or grandparent who gave of themselves and taught them the joy of loving and giving? Or is it devoid of actions that accompany love and marked instead by obligatory things and presents. Have you – did you – instill in those children that the greatest love given to us by in Christ Jesus is and should be mirrored in their daily lives because it was in your life with them?
What about your role as a friend? Sure you love this person or another but what does that mean? How far will you go to show that love? Does that mean that you will inconvenience yourself and not think of it as an inconvenience? Do you, will you, give a part of yourself to assuring that the friendship is both alive and fulfilling? Does your love include understanding of the other? Does your love include forgiveness freely given? The question I love : Does your love include the recognition that each person is unique and rather than try to have that person conform to your definition of who they should be, you accept and welcome the hallmarks that make them unique? How can you love someone if it only because they conform to your standards?
Who do you say Jesus is in your life? Is he truly in your life? The answer to that lies within the actions of your life. As the old song goes: “They can tell we are Christians by our love, by our love.” It is never too late to define any meaningful relationship by that standard. I pray that you do.