Complex times usually raise critical questions. The social, political, moral, and ethical dilemmas of contemporary culture propel us to ask many. Who are we? What have we become? Or, perhaps more pointedly, who are they, those people, the ones creating havoc in _________________ (insert the institution or place or group in your cross-hairs at the moment)? These and other rhetorical questions are the fodder of thousands of blogs, the banter of talking heads, Sunday sermons, and coffee talk around the nation. Sadly, they are evidence of the human tendency to find someone to blame for the inequities we perceive in the world around us. It's the oldest game in town, our inclination to aim at people and institutions we think responsible for the conditions of the world we inhabit. As appropriate as they may seem, however, they may miss the mark in accuracy. The real real question should always be, "who am I?"
The life punctuated by question marks in uneasy in most respects. Sure, we humans see everything as through a glass darkly. Contrary to popular belief we just don't know everything. Inquisitiveness has propelled our species through the stuff of quantum physics. medical research, the gasoline engine, the delectable flavors of exotic foods, and hide-and-seek. To ask questions is central to progress on every avenue of human pursuit, personal and societal. Trouble is, there's this thing about asking the right questions. It's what makes a life of question marks such a frustrating treadmill for so many. The answers are always elusive when we're fixed on the wrong questions.
Our Lord's most radical make-over was in the person of Simon bar Jonah, the man exemplified by his namesake, the fluttering bird. One day Jesus asked him, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is ?" (see Matthew 16:13, ESV). Simon's answer was predictable, a some-say and other's-say observation about how the people around them were viewing the ministry and role of Jesus. After this, Jesus asked the right question of the man who would lead the early church. He wanted to know, "But, who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15, ESV). Simon's answer was legendary, a personal confession of Jesus as Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Jesus didn't really want to know what everybody was thinking. He wanted to know the personal faith of the individual he had chosen to lead his new church, the character building project in the man he would name Petros.
It is the critical question of the times, "who am I? And, where do I stand in the mixed motions of contemporary America?" While we're lamenting the swamp, the disintegration of the family, vast changes in the moral landscape, declines in church attendance, disrespect of authority, questions about health care and immigration, it's a short-cut to solutions when we're pointing at others. The real character debate is the one I have with the man in the mirror. Who he is is the real question of the times.