August 31, 2008
Matthew 16: 21– 27
Your cross, my cross. It’s real.
The Gospel passage of this week follows immediately what we heard last week. It was in Caesarea Philippi when Peter, as the leader and the voice of all the disciples, professed his faith in Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus told him that he was the rock on which Jesus would build his church.
It is the same Peter who, in today’s Gospel, becomes “a stumbling stone” (obstacle) “over which [Jesus] might stumble.” And to Peter the stumbling stone, Jesus said almost the same words he ordered Satan at the end of the temptations in the desert. To Peter it was, “Get behind me Satan.” While to Satan, “Get away.” (4:10)
It seems easy to profess the faith in a victorious and “cool” Messiah, the one who commands over evil and illnesses. The environment of the city of Caesarea Philippi, a city built by a ruler (Philip the Tetrarch) and named after 2 world leaders may have led Peter to a worldly view of the Messiah.
The real Messiah is one who carries the cross and suffers in fulfilling his Father’s plan of salvation for the entire humanity. And it’s much tougher to accept this Messiah. And Jesus could not have been clearer on what Messiah Peter and all his disciples, then and now, must follow.
It is easy to fall in the temptation of an easy and fuzzy Christian life. But that is not the life Jesus invites and demands us. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
We often fail, but there is always a second chance for us. Unlike the words to Satan “get away,” Jesus tells Peter to get behind him. This means that even when Peter’s faith is at its weakest moment, Jesus still invites him to follow Jesus on his way to Jerusalem and to the cross. And the proper place of a disciple is following, not getting in the way of the Lord.
August 23, 2008
Matthew 16:13 - 20
"Who do YOU say that I am?"
Matthew makes it a point to tell us where Jesus is at this point in his ministry. He is in Caesarea Philippi, 20 miles north of the Sea of Galilee "the northernmost limits of ancient Israel." This location is significant in Matthew’s Gospel. He has traveled the whole region of Galilee. His name is out there. People know him. Many have seen and heard him. They talk about him. The disciples know all of these. And so Jesus asks them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
The disciples know what people say about Jesus. He is an outstanding preacher and a miraculous wonder-worker. He is famous. In fact, he is a celebrity of sort. But it does not matter what people say about him, or who they make him out to be. The question Jesus asks them is, “Who do YOU say that I am?” That is what matters.
The location of Caesarea Philippi also provides another aspect of this question that Jesus asks his disciples. Caesarea Philippi was located on the site of an older city. Here, Herod the Great built a temple of white marble in honor of the Roman emperor Caesar Agustus. When Herod’s son succeeded him as ruler of the region, he went further than his father in enlarging the city. He then renamed it after Caesar. He added the second name Philippi to distinguish this city from another Caesarea, Caesarea of Palestine, a city where most residents were Greek, which his father had built. This son of Herod happened to be Philip, therefore the double name of the city.
Here, we have a prime example of what the rulers of our world do to make a name for themselves and for those who are important to them. In this case, the benefactor is an emperor who Herod and Philip depended upon to hold on to their tiny territories.
What kind of ruler is Jesus? Immediate after this conversation, Jesus makes the first of three predictions of his passion and death. He tells the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and there he will suffer and be killed (16:21). We are now near the end of Jesus’ ministry of in Galilee. His day of suffering and death is fast approaching. And, at this moment, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do YOU say that I am?”
Do you really know me? Or do you only know of me through what other people think and say about me? Do you know what makes me different than any other human being?
 Meier, John P. Matthew. New Testament Message: v. 3. Liturgical Press, 1980, p 179.