So many strange and wonderful Biblical events take place on the mountains, above the ordinary plane of human endeavor. The Scriptures often challenge us to see the world from God’s eyes.
Caesarea Philippi was a lush and sacred place in the foothills of Mt. Herman. It is the location of one of the largest natural springs feeding the Jordan River. In Greek mythology it was the birthplace of the god Pan. In Roman lore it was given the name Caesarea after the deified emperor, Caesar Augustus, and later the name Philippi was added, after Philip, the son of Herod. It was now in the time of Jesus the site of crumbling temples to ancient gods and broken images of once popular heroes.
In a brilliant stroke of Gospel irony, Jesus seems to look away from the crumbling monuments and addresses two simple questions to his disciples: "Who do people say that I am?" And, "Who do you say that I am?" Whether it was due to the godly perspective of the mountainside or the dramatic examples of human mortality all around them, Peter clearly knew the answer. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Then, in that place of sacred monuments, Jesus created another. "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church." In this solemn moment, the Church founded by Jesus is given a message to live by. We are built upon a firm foundation by Jesus and the Spirit. But we are never to forget where our strength comes from. The gods and heroes crafted in stone will pass away. But by fidelity to God and God’s promise, what God has built will stand even against "the gates of the netherworld."
Thus we sing today’s responsorial prayer, Psalm 138.
The LORD is exalted, yet the lowly he sees,
and the proud he knows from afar.
Your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.
Fr. Jim Strommer, C.P. is on the Province leadership team and lives in Chicago, Illinois.