Sunday Gospel - Matthew 16:13-20
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said, ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’ Then he gave the disciples strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Jesus is still leading the disciples into a bit of a twilight zone; a withdrawal from all they know. A withdrawal from what Jesus himself knows. Whilst there may be traders among them it was considered preferable to stay close to their own Temple not the temples of Syrian and Roman gods.
The region of Caesarea Philippi would have been one of those places you talked about or knew people from, a place of hearsay. Jesus chooses to bring his disciples to the feet of one of the greatest displays of gentile culture and spiritual endeavour.The city, built high on top of an escarpment, crowned by a marble temple to the godhead of Caesar. The vertical rock incised with shrines and altars displaying the wealth of the city for all to see. The region was also known as Panias - the place of the pagan god Pan - another son, another shepherd. A sight to behold - even if they never set foot in it.
There, in front of all the decadence of this alternative culture and spiritual practices, Jesus realises that his mission has more than one dimension; more than one language; more that one flock of lost sheep. Needing their consciousness to deepen, Jesus asks the disciples to say who he is.
Not to drag a name from scripture or scribe nor to rely on tradition or prophecy. To search their hearts and minds, to put a name to what they have witnessed and experienced. To own the relationship that exists between them and this friend who called God his father.
Like the disciples, we can spend a great deal of time outside the faith of our youth. It's an easy business to identity our faith by the totems of what we know - prayers, rituals, saints and angels. A childish faith will has its own sense of certainty and superiority until challenged by all the world has to offer. Then the question is 'What is important? What is the relationship that has come to me through faith?'
For Simon, who is seemingly bedazzled by his friendship with Jesus, there is nothing that is good enough except the words that the Spirit draws from his mouth. Jesus has made his faith live. He knows that what he has seen and experienced is beyond sorcery or trickery. Through a friendship that has become more important than boats, or temples or even family, one title emerges - Son of the Living God. And Simon's reward is to be re-named.
The disciples may have been mesmerised by the ornate carvings in a vast escarpment of solid rock. Peter stands as a man, a leader speaking for a small band of believers. Yet faith has marked him. Carved into him a new way of being. A new building tradition has begun. Neither the Temple at Jerusalem or Caesar's monument mean anything next to the living stones of witness.
Within a few decades of this event the Temple has been destroyed, the shrines and altars of Caesarea Phillipii will be faint tracings in the wasteland strata of the Golan Heights - the statues and finery erased by time.
Peter is the first, but not the last. In time the living stones, the family of God, have held together, bonded in faith throughout the centuries and across the ends of the earth.