Now it happened that as he was praying alone the disciples were with him; and he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" And they answered, "John the Baptist; but others say, Elijah; and others, that one of the old prophets has risen." And he said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered, "The Christ of God."
Perhaps there is no greater threat to our own security than the gods we create out of our own expectations. These gods constantly swirl in our hearts and masquerade in our imaginations. There is the god of my own convenience; the god of my condition; the god of my hidden agenda; the god of my private religious worldview. These gods get broadcast far and wide by the "crowds", who present an divine image that serves some end that they or we or I seek for their or our or my own purposes. That end may be for prosperity and favor, or for collective self-improvement projects where we become "the best versions of ourselves", or for the assumed justification of a particular set of prejudices. The great threat to our security is presuming to know who God is instead of learning how to receive God as he is. We become slaves to our own smallish expectations, trapped by the self-generated images we create.
The journey of Lent is, in part, about being cured of our idolatrous views of God. The God who creates us and redeems us and invites our worship for our own good is the one whom Jesus reveals in his flesh. We may want to say this and to say that about who Jesus is, but we learn to receive him truly when we enter into his prayer.
It is a curious thing that at the beginning of this passage, Jesus is "praying alone" and the "disciples were with him". The other voices are not there; the crowds have been left behind. The disciples are gathered into Jesus' solitude. This is where the disciples hear the Father's singular voice and the Son's singular response. The disciples listen, and so when Peter speaks, he speaks in truth.
We say too much and listen too little. But the spiritual life – life in Christ – is born in the valley of humility, a place where we must first learn how to receive, being schooled in the dialogue of prayer between the Father and the Son that is free of "what the crowds say". That dialogue unfolds in solitude. From that place, we learn how to cease making gods who fit our image and conform to our likeness, so as to allow God to make us and re-make us in his image, conformed to the likeness of the beloved Son: the one who empties himself, who listens, who gives bread.
By the end of Luke's Gospel, the addiction to whatever savior we expect on our own terms seems to be the very reason the first witnesses to his resurrection cannot recognize the Risen Christ (see Luke 24:1–24). Maybe the Lenten programs that are often advertised and promoted hook us on slightly deviant images of God and, in the end, blind us in some way. The Church, who is gathered in Jesus, instructs us to fast, pray, and give alms. We like to try to be creative and trendy by choosing to "do something" rather than "give up things", so we can be nicer or the best versions of ourselves. But that's just another form of giving in to what "the crowds say".
Maybe fasting, and prayer, and almsgiving really are forms of denial and are meant to be so. Fast from food, pray away from the crowds, share in the poverty of the poor by giving alms. Maybe the Church knows how to guide us into the valley of humility, where we learn how to listen, so that in the end we answer the key question in truth: "But who do you say that I am?" Not my guru towards enlightenment, not my justification for my own agenda, not my therapist towards a better me, but "The Christ of God".
Prayer: Lord, help me listen.