The gospel today was the confession of Peter--Peter, that most bungling of all the bungling friends of Jesus acknowledging Jesus as the 'Messiah, the son of the living God'.
The most interesting part of the story, for me, is not 'what happened' but 'where it happened'--Caesarea Philippi.
Caesarea Philippi is far north in Galilee--near what is now the border with Lebanon and Syria. It is a ruin today, though it was a thriving city in Jesus' day. It was built by the Tetrach Philip. He was politician enough to name it after the Roman Emperor as well. And he put Caesar first!
The city was built over the ruins of Banus--actually known earlier as 'Panus' because that was the supposed home of the Greek God Pan. There is, in that place, a cave that was believed to be Pan's home. A stream runs out of the cave that becomes, miles along, the Jordan River. When I was there I took water from the head waters of the Jordan and brought it home to use in baptisms.
The ruins of Caesarea Philippi reveal that Philip built great temples there to the Greek and Roman gods and a Temple to the god-king Caesar (I told you the boy was a sly politician!)
In the first century the city was on both a north-south and a east-west crossroads. It was a city that contained people and travelers from all over what we call the Middle East. And it was home to the worship of may gods.
I think it remarkable that Jesus took the disciples that far north to ask them: "who do people say that I am?" But there couldn't be a better spot for the question.
When Peter confesses Jesus' identity is when Jesus says, "You are Peter and on this rock" (petros in Greek is the word for 'rock') "I build my church".
Then Jesus tells them not to tell anyone he is the Messiah.
It's a wonderful passage that introduces the theological discipline of 'Christology'--seeking to understand and explain 'who Jesus was'. It's a little disappointing for the preacher in me that it ends with that secrecy motif because the next verse is Jesus' explanation that he had to go to Jerusalem and die and Peter rebukes him and Jesus says that great line: "Get behind me, Satan" to the 'Rock' of his church.
My maternal grandmother always told us cousins, "don't get above your raising"--don't think too highly of yourself. Peter, being proclaimed the 'petros' on which the church would be built, decided he could rebuke Jesus for claiming he had to die--that wasn't what the Messiah was supposed to do...he was supposed to expel the Romans from Israel and sit on the throne of David.
Peter 'got above his raising' in a big way....
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