Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
When I at first looked at today’s reading, I had wanted to address specifically Jesus’s question; “But who do you say that I am?” That question was direct and personal. It contrasts the crowd versus the person. It at one demands a personal, and perhaps a philosophical response. To me, in 2014, it strikes a contrast a Christ of the catechesis and a Christ of personal interpretation and reflection. It calls one to both examine the Christ as taught by the Church institution, and its writings and the Christ as an individual understands Him. One is universal, and the other individual.
Then though, I was directed to the specifics of the scriptural passage. I was guided towards its details. In looking at those details, I was guided back in time to the first century. I was guided to the world of Simon Peter. For this short reading I was placed in his world. As I entered into that world, I began to enter Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi, though on the Sea of Galilee, is not a Jewish town. In truth it is a place Gods chosen people would have avoided. The city has a close association with Greek pagan worship, particularly worship of the Greek god Pan. Herod the Great expanded that city as a tribute to his son Philip the Tetrarch. The name Caesarea comes from Caesar, that Roman emperor declared divine. The city had its temples carved into the rocks at the base of Mount Hermon. At the base of that mountain was also a cave which the pagan cults believed to be the gate to the underworld. That Gate of Hades, the gates of hell were a place of intense pagan worship. This is the backdrop to the scriptural story. Caesarea Philippi was a place of intense paganism, and a place considered vile and repulsive to the even the most liberal Hebrew. It is on that sinful rock that Jesus asks Peter “But who do you say that I am?” It was on that Jesus gives Peter the keys to his Church.
In the light of history, the reading begins to clearly describe the authority that Peter was given. On that pagan rock, Peter was to be named the rock of Christ’s Church. At that gate of Hades, he was given his commission. At that place he was given the authority to answer that question “But who do you say that I am? Now then I can look at the question as it is directed at me. This time though I don’t see my answer as an interpretation, but rather as a statement. Christ is not then my interpretation, but instead He is someone carried to me through Peter’s succession. He is the Christ taught to me through that Church’s catechism. He is the Christ to follow through the same challenges that Peter faced at those “Gates of Hell.” Peters Christ did not live in a secluded heaven, and neither does mine. The challenges Peter faced in answering Christ’s question are many of the challenges this disciple faces today. The Christ that asks that question is not one that built his temple on stone, but one who built it on living stone with Peter at its foundation. I then become one of those living stones, a member of that mystical body of Christ. What at one time was an interpretation, now becomes a responsibility.