Some years ago, my spiritual director asked me to meditate about images that summarize my understanding of Christ, or to say it differently, that express who Christ is for me and what kind of relationship I have with him. The time I spent thinking and praying during this spiritual exercise was rewarding and fulfilling. Various images came to my mind that were meaningful to me at this particular stage in my life. Dry and abstract doctrine became translated into tangible expressions of the “God-with-us.”
I continued this exercise throughout the years and remember many images of Christ, which were important to me at various moments in my life: the nurturing parent, the reliable friend on my side, the strong advocate for the disadvantaged, the peacemaker, the “green” prophet, and so on. Some of the images seem quite contradictory, such as the image of the faithful friend and the one of the prophet who denounces injustice with harsh words. However, these images seem only contradictory when removed from the life-context in which they made sense. At times, the image of the advocate for the disadvantaged was the appropriate image of Christ. At another time, the image of the activist for an environmentally friendly living was fitting. Different situations ask for different images that highlight dimensions and aspects of Christ that are appropriate in a particular situation.
In today’s Gospel, Christ asks his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" They respond to him mentioning various prophets that represent important aspect of his mission, but nothing really captures how he understands himself. He tells them that he “must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” Christ’s self-image reflects the notions of suffering, death, and resurrection, something that does not go well with Peter. Peter’s image of Christ does not include a suffering and dying Christ. For this he is criticized harshly by Christ, even addressed as “Satan”!
Sometimes I wonder if my images of Christ would not trigger a similar reaction of Christ. Perhaps, like Peter, I am “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Perhaps I read something into Christ instead of listening to what he has to say about himself. For an answer to this startling question, we can turn to the Church. We know Christ through our Church’s tradition, particularly the Sacred Scriptures. By comparing our images with images of God in the Old Testament and of Christ in the New Testament with our images and by comparing the biblical context of these images with the context in which our images of God are situated, we can discern if our images of Christ are appropriate.
The first reading of today from the book of Genesis provides us with a powerful image of a faithful God who established an eternal covenant with his people and with every living being! He will not revoke the covenant, even when we ignore this covenant, when we create images of God that have nothing to do with him, when we think as humans do and not as God does.
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