Monday, September 17, 2018



          At the beginning of today’s Gospel, we heard: “Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.”   The Gospel writers don’t give us a lot of specific geographic information and place names.  Often it is “on a mountain”, or “the place where he was reared” or something generic statement without mentioning the name.
          But here we are told about Caesarea Philippi.  So maybe we should pay attention to that.  After all, this is the location that Jesus seems to have chosen for a very important revelation about who He is and what His mission is. 
          Now Caesarea Philippi is way in the northernmost part of Galillee, in what is the Gollan Heights today.  It was NOT a Jewish town.  It is the sight of a spring, and for centuries before Jesus it was a pagan shrine dedicated to the Greek God Pan, the flute playing half-man, half-goat god of promiscuity and fertility; a bad parody of the worst image of a frat-boy. 
          Herod the Great, who we hear about in the stories of Jesus’ birth, built a marvelous white temple there dedicated to the Roman Emperor, Augustus.  Herod was succeeded by Philip the Tetrarch, who made this town his administrative center, and renamed it after his boss, the Emperor or Caesar, and called it Philip’s Caesar, or in Latin, Caesarea Philippi.  That is what it is called in today’s Gospel. 
          So this was a pagan place, associated with fertility rites, and an administrative center of the occupying Romans, named after a foreign emperor who pretended to be a god.  Not the kind of place a good Jew would think of for an important religious revelation.  It would be as if Pope Francis, to make some important, history shaking religious revelation, would choose to go to Las Vegas to make the announcement.  It is just off.
          Indeed, the remarkable and startling truth that Jesus reveals is very wild and unexpected.  Because Jesus reveals that the Messiah, far from being a conquering king who will smash the Jew’s enemies and re-establish the Davidic Kingdom of Israel, will instead be rejected, tortured and killed, and then rise after three days.  And even worse, Jesus announces that it will not be the pagans and the Romans and the awful gentiles that will persecute and murder him, but this will be done by “the elders, the chief priests and the scribes,” the very ones who are supposed to be on God’s side.   [Any analogies you want to draw to today’s religious leaders I leave to your own devises.]
          The whole thing is crazy and out-of-whack.   No wonder poor Peter has a hard time getting his head wrapped around this.  Jesus is talking crazy, going against all the norms and expectations of their religion.   No wonder Peter tries to correct Jesus and get him back on good path.  But of course, Jesus will have none of it.
          What are we to make of this?   Well, we can fully expect that God’s ways are NOT our ways.  Jesus does NOT come preaching a prosperity Gospel.  He does NOT say “fall in line, obey the commandments, do good and God will reward you.”  In fact, Jesus says the opposite.  He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me. 
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it."
          This is very radical stuff.  Jesus is subverting all our human calculations based on power, on prestige, on our own accomplishments.
          In Jesus’ scheme of things, human efforts count for nothing.  Nothing!  Salvation, which is the only thing that ultimately matters, is completely and fully accomplished by God.  Just like the Resurrection.  It is not anything that any human intellect, or ingenuity, or effort, or science, or military force or any other human endeavor could achieve.  
          It is purely, totally, entirely God’s doing.  Only God could pull of the Resurrection.   And God did. 

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