When Jesus asked that question, he was speaking to his disciples, a group of men struggling with the identity of the man they were following. In modern times, the question is still relevant and might be more pertinent than ever. Christianity is predicated on the identity of Christ and that identity drives the doctrines and actions of its followers.
There has emerged in modernity two identities of the man from Galilee. One is Jesus and the other is Christ. Initially, this sounds strange. Jesus Christ is the full title of the man who died on a cross and was resurrected three days later. How can those names be separated? The Church has indeed done that very thing.
These two views are symbolized by how Christianity is viewed. The faith is centered on Jesus Christ, set between the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is this idea that reveals the two views.
In one view, the Church is a cradle and set in the bottom of its boundaries is the baby Jesus. Here, the innocent gentleness of an infant is emphasized. He is vulnerable, swaddled in comfort and safety, and is bereft of the dirtiness of the world around him. Wide-eyed wonder and purest joy shine is his eyes and wordless gestures.
This view of a child is very appealing. The baby Jesus has unconditional acceptance of everyone and everything, an open and unlimited love. Here is an infant, weak and vulnerable, safe and serene. There is nothing here that might weigh on the shoulders or prick the side with a thorn. In the cradle is a Jesus who is small and needs Christian love and thrives on unending affection. Baby Jesus knows nothing of being a man, only of being a Mother’s child. There is no masculinity or femininity in him. He has not entered into churches and learned doctrines and so knows nothing of controversy or social issues. As an infant, he is infinitely approachable.
In the other view, the Church is a mountain and set at its pinnacle is a throne and on that throne is Christ the king.
This view is far less appealing. Christ is a grown man, hardened by the realities of life and steeled with the purpose of his heavenly Father. He knows the dirtiness of real life and the suffering visited by spiritual malevolence (temptation). The scars of His determined submission to the authority of his Father are seen in His hands, His feet and His side. Some have been saved by Him and others damned to judgment. Christ knows war and violence. To approach Him is to approach one who has the authority to grant life and take life, to bring blessings and inflict curses. His place is not safe nor is it comfortable. Everything is His to give and take as He sees fit. He is strong, invulnerable and unmovable. There are no rights or autonomy before His throne.
The first impulse is to reconcile the two symbols, to say that the man is both Jesus and Christ, both the infant and the king. The problem with such moderation is twofold. First, when Jesus was born, He began His progression from a child to an adult and it was as an adult that He was given his mission. Second, when He was resurrected, His was not the body of an infant, but that of the man He was when he died on the cross. It was as an adult male that Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated on His throne.
Among Christian men, there is a crisis of adulthood, where adolescent boys grow into adolescent men and then marry women in hopes of finding direction in life. They are incapable of governing themselves and look toward others, especially women, to govern them. The symbol of Baby Jesus is ultimately a place for women and children, where women raise children in safety, and this is where adolescent men long to be.
However, in order to move into adulthood, an adolescent boy must leave his mother’s world, leave behind the cradle, and begin the hard and arduous climb up the mountain to the place of authority where Christ grants men their purpose and authority to carry it out. It is not a place for women and children, but for men. Christ does call women in service to Him, but it is to men that authority over families and churches, over women and children, is given.
More and more Christianity, even the conservative branches, are growing sympathetic to the identity of Jesus the infant and structuring itself accordingly. The identity of Christ the king has fallen on hard times. Weakness in the church culture is manifested by a perpetual move toward an adolescent understanding of who the person of Jesus Christ is. Instead of seeing Christ as above the church reining with authority, the Church is seen as the cradle of a weak and vulnerable infant named Jesus. Not viewing Christ as an adult male king ruling over the church also removes the idea that adult male Christians should have authority over family and church. Authority and equality cannot coexist.
This is all a reflection of an adolescent church culture. Christian men need to leave behind adolescence and move into adulthood, climb up that mountain to the throne of Christ and serve Him alone. From that culture, the Church can then grow up.