There is a hint of Palm Sunday in our Scripture readings for this Sunday. As we hear a portion of the “3rd Song” of Isaiah’s “suffering servant” (50:4-9), we are reminded of the ultimate physical and spiritual rejection of the Christ. We are also in awe of the servant’s fidelity to the Master who has sent him. It is with this image in mind that we are presented with the dialogue of Jesus with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi. There he asks two pointed questions, “Who do people say that I am?” and the more personal, “Who do you say that I am?” The answer to this question is voiced by Peter, “You are the Christ.”
Caesarea Philippi, while lush and beautiful with a stream that flows from the mouth of the cave into the Trans-Jordan River, was called by the Romans as “the rock of the gods” and by Jesus as the “Gates of Hell.” In both Old and New Testament times it was a center for pagan worship with temples to the Canaanite god Baal and the Roman fertility god Pan. It was a place that many came to celebrate and implore fertility at the expense of their human dignity and the discarding of their innocence. In short, Jesus, accompanied by his disciples, stands before the Gates of Hell.
While Matthew’s version of the story (16:12-23) is more detailed, Mark’s account (8:27-35) provides the same conclusion which leads to Jesus’ foretelling of the Passion after their own confession of faith. How powerful an image, taken from Matthew, is Peter being told he is the rock and “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not overcome it.”
At this place, we acknowledge the Christ and Redeemer. At this place, Paschal hope is born. At this place, the Church is conceived. And at this place, we come to know that there is no power that can destroy the Body of Christ! And so we pray:
Make us one, O God, in acknowledging Jesus the Christ. As we proclaim him by our words, let us follow him in our works; give us strength to take up the cross and courage to lose our lives for his sake.
May the week ahead be filled with every grace and blessing!