28 August 2017
Knowing and Loving Jesus
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Anthony John Strouse; brown hair, hazel eyes; approximately 6 feet tall, 154 pounds; resides at 3139 Hogarth Avenue, Flint, MI 48532; Catholic priest and Michigan State Police chaplain; enjoys traveling, reading, and watching high school and college sports; oldest of three children. Those are a lot of facts about me. Most of those could be found online. But just because a person knows those facts, does that mean that they know me? I think we could all agree that knowing about a person is not the same as knowing the person him or herself.
Today Jesus asks the apostles who He is. The apostles themselves have seen a lot of things, and have spent a lot of time with Jesus. At the time of Jesus, and especially in Judaism, to be a disciple of a rabbi meant that you went everywhere he did. Being a disciple wasn’t a hobby or even a part-time job; it was a way of life that changed all your circumstances. So the apostles knew a lot about Jesus. They had seen him change water into wine, heal a lame man lowered down from the roof, teach people a new way of life in the Beatitudes, walk on water, and even multiply 5 loaves and 2 fish so that over 5,000 people could be fed.
And as Jesus asks who others say He is, they give Him the facts, and some of the inferences others are making about Jesus: “‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’” But then Jesus makes the question very personal and requires an answer that takes some soul-searching: “‘But who do you way that I am?’” The basic facts are not enough when faced with this question. You can’t simply rattle off stats when a person asks you who they are, because a person is more than just the aspects of his or her life.
We are probably good about reciting facts about Jesus. We probably remember things that we learned about Jesus in Catholic Schools or religious education classes. But do we know Jesus? Not, do we know about Jesus, but do we know Jesus? Whom do we know better: Jesus or our spouse? Jesus or our best friend? Jesus or our children?
Of course, to know someone, we have to know something about that person. The complaint from many people who grew up with the Baltimore Catechism, and there is certainly some truth to this, is that they knew all the facts, but never realized that being a Catholic entailed a relationship with Jesus, and therefore a relationship with His Mystical Body, the Church. They could tell you why God made us (God made us to know, love, and serve Him in this life, so to be happy with Him in the next) and recite all the necessary memorized prayers, but Jesus was, more or less, a stranger. If we fast forward to the next generation, the general observation is that they were very good at knowing that Jesus loves them, and how to make crafts about Bible stories (the joke is that CCD really stands for cut, color, and draw), but they don't know anything about what the Church actually teaches, and often times do not know prayers beyond the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Grace Before Meals.
In reality, both approaches are needed. We need to know the facts about a person, but we need to build on those facts to a deeper relationship. If we put it in terms of a marital relationship, this makes perfect sense. Can you imagine going up to a person and saying, “I know your height, weight, hair color, hobbies, credit score, eating habits, etc., so let’s get married!”? That would be crazy!! On the other hand, can you imagine going up to a person and saying, “I don’t know anything about you, but I know that I love you, so let’s get married!”? Equally crazy!!
In order to love a person, we first have to know that person. So many of the annulments that I deal with are from people who admit that they thought they knew the person they were marrying, but it turns out they were wrong. Learning about Jesus and about the Church is important, especially as a younger child. We need to learn the facts, the rules, and the prayers that so many generations memorized. And that doesn’t end in childhood; I’m not done learning about Jesus and the Church, and I have 4 degrees in those subjects! So we all need to continue to form our mind with the intellectual treasures of the faith.
But, especially as we are in middle school and older, we also need to develop and emphasize that relational aspect with Jesus. If all we know are facts about Jesus, then it’s hard to say that we’re a disciple of Jesus, because a disciple is someone who knows the Master intimately, not just at a surface level. St. James says it this way in his letter: “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.” Demons know about God, but they don’t have a relationship with God.
Today the Lord invites us to know Him better. Maybe we need to grow in the facts that we know about Jesus. Maybe we need to grow in our relational part of our friendship with Jesus. In whatever way we need to continue to grow (and we’re never done, not even after Confirmation!), God promises to assist us by the Holy Spirit, so that we can truly be the friends of God, not only in name, but, more importantly, in deed.