The text is Matthew 16:13-20
Also found in Mark 8:27-30 and Luke 9:18-20
Who am I? I have got lots of eyes but I cannot see.
I’m a bunch of needles.
Who am I? I’m as light as a feather get the vast majority of people cannot hold me for more than 5 minutes.
I am breath.
Who am I? I’m tall when young but short when old.
Today’s text is at the very centre of the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” and then directly confronts the disciples and asks, “Who do you say I am?” This question and how it is answered, both by Peter and ourselves, is central to our faith. Where do we put Christ in our lives?
This story has been preached every year, so I thought I would like to look at something different, therefore, I have focused on where the action took place. Caesarea Philippi was established by Alexander the Great and its main feature was an amazing spring/cave, which fed the River Jordan. It is said it was so deep, they could not find the bottom. The whole area was made into a city by Herod the Great in 19BC and expanded by Philip, Herod’s son around 4BC. Philip strengthened the city and named it after Caesar and himself. It was on a main trading route between Tyre and Damascus but It was a very pagan city. The chief god worshipped was Pan, god of the forests, the wild, and of flocks. Pan was said to have the appearance of a satyr: the legs of a goat and the body of a human. This ancient god could produce ear-splitting sounds called “panic”, which caused extreme pain to anyone who heard it. Caesarea Philippi built a huge reputation of sexual immorality, animal sacrifices and maybe even child sacrifice.
So, why did Jesus take his disciples there? I am presuming it was not a boys’ day out… Why did he ask the questions in that setting? Was it just a coincidence, was it just conversation or was he using the backdrop of a place at the heart of badness, the heart of the devil, to proclaim he was the new life and, through him, God would be revealed. He was this Messiah, he was the anointed one, he was the Saviour. Where better to announce this than in the very heart of your enemy?
The next thing I pondered upon was the different between the Matthew text and the versions in Mark and Luke. It is only in Matthew that Peter is given the keys of heaven. Was Christ saying that he was building his church upon the rock of Peter or upon the rock of faith, saying that if you believe in Christ the Saviour, salvation will come? So, should we be building our faith upon Peter, whose authority is passed on from Pope to Pope to Pope, or should we be building our faith on our personal relationship with Christ?
I said, a few weeks ago, the feeding of the 5000 must have been a miracle, because the account is in all four Gospels, therefore, because the key being given to Peter only appears in one Gospel, does that make that part of the story less factual? But these are just my musings and I in no way wish to undermine the basis of the Roman Catholic Church. I do want to make sure, however, that when I answer the question posed by Jesus, “Who do you say I am?”, I say you are the anointed one that changed the priorities of my life, my life style, and everything about what I do. That is based upon my relationship with a living God, a creator of the universe who still has time to spend with me.
The challenge for us today is how do we respond to the question who am I?
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon