In the Gospel today Jesus puts a very important, indeed critical, question to His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Addressed to the disciples, that includes all of us; you and me. In the Gospel Jesus is asking us this question. It is time to ante up and put it on the line. Who do you say that Jesus is? And that is really to ask, “What role, and what importance, does this person, Jesus, have in your life?”
This question is very important, because how you answer that question really determines how you are going to lead your life. If you think Jesus is a nice guy but nothing special, you will lead your life one way. But if you believe He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, verily God in the flesh, the Fullness of Life, then you obviously are going to want to follow Him much more closely.
It is interesting to me where Jesus pops this question to the disciples. Usually when someone asks a very critical question, like “Will you marry me?” some thought and planning goes into WHERE the question will be asked. It may be a fine restaurant, a romantic location, some spot significant to the couple. It is usually not broached in the aisle of a grocery store, or in a laundromat or on a parking lot.
In the same way, for an important, pivotal moment like this, a critical moment of decision, of declaring our allegiance, I would think that Jesus might go up on a mountain top. Mountain tops seem to be very special, holy places for Jesus. He likes to go there to pray. He is transfigured on a mountain top. Mountain tops are special to Jesus and for this special question I would expect Him to go there. But He doesn’t.
Or perhaps Jesus would go to the Holy City of Jerusalem, site of the Temple, God’s Holy City. But Jesus does not go to Jerusalem for this important and solemn question.
Anyone remember where Jesus goes to ask his disciples this question, “Who do you say that I am?” According to our Gospel, “Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi…” That is where Jesus chose to put this question.
¿Where the heck is Caesarea Philippi?
Well, interestingly, it is way up north, 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, out of Jewish territory, into pagan lands. Caesarea Philippi was an entirely Gentile, that is non-Jewish, community. It was built around a cave from which a stream flowed, one of the main sources of the River Jordan. At the cave was a famous shrine dedicated to the Greek god Pan, and to Nymphs, and it was associated with fertility rites.
This is a strange place for Jesus to be asking such a critically important question. It would be like Jesus going to some totally secular location, like Wall Street or Times Square, or more locally like Jesus going down to some of the more active stretches of 6th Avenue in Austin, a place where there are pans and nymphs and sometimes fertility rites, or at least so I am told. Why would Jesus pick such a non-religious, totally secular, even unholy place to address this critical question of just who do you say that I am?
I don’t think it is by accident. I think Jesus chose this location, in the region of Caesarea Philippi, on purpose for a reason. Because that is where our answer really counts.
You see it is one thing to come to Church on Sunday, sing the hymns, say the prayers, stand up, sit down, kneel, go through the actions and say, “Oh Jesus is the Lord of my life. He is the ONE.” That is nice, but it doesn’t cost much.
But it is another thing when you are at home, and the kids are on your nerves, and your spouse is in a foul mood, and the air conditioning breaks, to really say and really mean, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And therefore I am going to live like YOU are the center of my life. That takes commitment.
And in the market place, when we go shopping, and we make all sorts of ethical decisions by what we purchase and where we shop, it is a whole other thing to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then we have to consider if we are supporting a store that pays its employees a living wage. Are we buying goods produced by child labor or in sweat shops? Are we spending money on frivolities and that money could be used to help others? How much are we giving in to consumerism? When you are shopping who do you say Jesus is?
And at work, it is a whole other thing to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Because if you really mean that then you need to forgo the juicy office gossip around the water-cooler. And you may not be able to pad expense accounts like if you did not say that. And you would need to seek to enact company policies that are fair and legal and respectful of the environment. And you would need to treat your employees and your fellow co-workers not just as economic units but as children of God.
And in the public forum and in politics to really say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” is a whole different thing, that means eschewing the politics of separation, of labeling others, of pandering to people’s fears and of the leaders that divide, and instead, to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, means seeking justice, and care for the victim and the oppressed, and working for respect and peace.
You see it is one thing to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” here in church, but another thing altogether to say it and mean it in Caesarea Philippi, in all the rest of your life. But that is where Jesus wants to meet you, where Jesus calls you to be a disciple: not here in church, not on the mountain top, not in the Jerusalem temple, but in all the Ceasarea Philippi’s in your life. Everywhere out there. That is where Jesus comes and asks you, “Who do you say that I am?”