In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus asks the apostles: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replies: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29-30). He gives the right answer, but does not understand what it means.
Peter thinks that the Christ will come in majesty and glory, liberate the Jewish people from their oppressors, and establish an everlasting earthly kingdom, Jesus explains that the Christ is someone who personifies shame, suffering, and powerlessness. Instead of ascending a throne, he will be crucified on the cross, die, and rise on the third day (Mark 8:31).
Upon hearing what Jesus has said, Peter “takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him (Mark 8:32). In response, Jesus calls Peter in a most unflattering way: “Get behind me Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” ((Mark 8:32).
Like Peter, we often label God according to our own facile categories, and then presume that we have fully understood Him. We want a God whom we can manage, one who wll behave according to our expectations. We want to pin Him down, demolish His mystery, and put Him in a box, which we can open or close at whim. We forget what St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote: Deus semper major. God always transcends even our most sublime ideas and words about Him. We can never control Him.
I remember a spiritual retreat where the facilitator asked us, “Is Jesus your God?” We enthusiastically shouted in unison: “Yes!” He looked at us sternly and said:”Liars!” He explained: “You say Jesus is your God. But let me tell you this — whoever or whatever controls you is your god. So don’t say Jesus is your God if you have allowed some people, or your addictions, your fear, anger, and other strong tendencies, habits, prejudices obsessions, or vices to control you.” He added: “If you say I cannot live without a cellphone, money, cigarette, alcohol, sex, or drug — these things have become your gods because you have allowed them to control you.” So, the question of Jesus, “Who do you say that I am? ” can also mean: “Who controls you?” The song “Jesus take the wheel” by Carrie Underwood talks of a woman who finds the answer to that question the hard way.
She is driving home on Christmas Eve with her baby. She cannot concentrate on her driving because worries, fears, guilt, and anxieties overwhelm her. Unable to bear the emotional turmoil inside her, she stops the car and cries.
She looks at her baby in the backseat. The sight of him sleeping like a rock makes her realize that while she’s “running low on faith,” her baby, in contrast, sleeps peacefully, unmindful of everything because he knows his mother is in control of everything.
In that instant, she bows her head and prays: “I’m sorry for the way I’ve been living my life. I know I’ve got to change so, from now on, I’m letting go. Take control of my life. Jesus take the wheel!.” During those times when we are low on faith, let us allow Jesus to be really God for us. Let Him take the wheel.