There is a brief interaction between Jesus and certain unbelieving Jews on the Temple Mount which illustrates the rather common human tendency to demand that God be God on our terms, not His. Here is that dialogue:
And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon.
So the Jews gathered around him and said to him,
“How long are you going to keep us in suspense?
If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe.
The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.
But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep (Jn 10:22-25).
Their demand to be told plainly is, in effect, a way of insisting that Jesus be the Christ, the Messiah, on their terms. It is as if they are saying, “OK, Jesus, repeat after me. Say, ‘I am the Messiah. I am the one you have been waiting for.'”
But of course the problem with Jesus saying this is that they would have heard the word “Messiah” on their terms, not His. They would have understood the Messiah and His role with their flawed worldly notions. They expected a Messiah who would ride in on a warhorse, gather an army, defeat and slaughter their Roman oppressors, and reestablish the Kingdom of David in worldly prosperity, power, and glory.
This was “Messiah” on their terms, but not His. Jesus would not be reduced to some military general or political figure. He is God and Lord. He does not fit into our neat little reductions and often foolish distinctions, factions, and parties.
Early on, Jesus, though accepting the title among the apostles discreetly (e.g., Mat 16:16-17), would not let them spread this word (Mat 16:20). This was because of the mistaken notions of Messiah described above. Only at the end, under oath and with the Cross in sight, did Jesus finally accept the title. But even then He did so with distinctions that both elevated the Messiah beyond some earthly kingship (to a heavenly one) and delineated His role as the suffering servant.
Pope Benedict, writing as Joseph Ratzinger, describes Jesus’ public declaration of His role as Messiah as follows:
According to Mark, the high priest’s question is: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus answers “I am; and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven (Mk 14:62). … The high priest’s question [to] Jesus about his messiahship refers to it in terms of Psalm 2:27 and 110:3 using the expression, “Son of the Blessed”—Son of God. … Jesus then explains more closely, basing himself on Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13, how messiahship and sonship are to be understood … he explains how he wants his mission to be understood. From this we may conclude that Jesus accepted the title Messiah, with all the meanings accruing to it from the tradition, but at the same time he qualified it in a way that could only lead to a guilty verdict [but] He left no room for political or military interpretations. … He claims to sit at the right hand of the power, that is to say, to come from God in the manner of Daniel’s Son of Man, in order to establish God’s definitive Kingdom (Jesus of Nazareth Vol. 2, pp. 180-181).
And therefore Jesus was Messiah, all right, not only in the humble sense of suffering servant, but also in the more glorified sense of the Son of Man described in Daniel. He is God and Lord, judge of the living and the dead, and He will come on the clouds one day and be seen by all for who He really is. Thus, a kind of high Christology and suffering servant meet in Christ, the true Messiah. He is not high enough for the political glories of this world, yet at the same time He is too high for this world, which would seek to restrain Him in “manageable” glories and roles so that His “handlers” could also benefit from His office.
But Jesus will not be handled or managed by us. He will not do our political bidding, join our parties, or be our candidate. He is too much for us. He bursts our notions and exceeds our expectations. Not only is He outside our box, He is outside our world. He is God on His terms, not ours.
Now this is important, since many in our world today seek to define God on their own terms. In effect, we moderns say, “Be God on my terms,” or “I will believe in you if you conform to my expectations. Tell me plainly, in my terms, if you will be the kind of God I expect and want you to be.” The ecclesial version of this is “When the Catholic Church conforms to my views and expectations I will put faith in her and join, otherwise I won’t.” And thus God and the Church He founded are not to be discovered, they are to be reworked according to modern sensibilities. In terms of God, we used to call this idolatry. In terms of the Church, this is called “designer religion.”
Try for a minute to step back and be appalled at the arrogance of this modern trend. So many in our culture think they have a perfect right to design God rather than to go out and meet Him on His own terms, as revealed in Scripture and the ancient Tradition of the Church. For many today, it is God in the image of man, not man in the image of God.
To the ancients who took this stance Jesus simply said, “You are not my sheep.” Not a good thing to hear from the lips of the Savior! To them He had given the proof of miracles, the testimony of John the Baptist, the voice of the Father in their hearts, and the fulfillment of countless Scriptures. To us today He gives the miracle of a two-thousand-year-old Church and Tradition, the testimony of countless saints, the voice of the Father and the Holy Spirit, and His revealed Word, tested time and time again and found to be true and reliable.
To those who are not His sheep, no explanation is possible. To those who are, no explanation is necessary. Pray for many massive and sudden conversions. Ask for a miracle to break the arrogance of our times, which dare to say to God, “Be God on my terms or be gone.”