Matthew 16:13-20 Peter’s Declaration about Jesus, the Christ.
In this ‘sacred’ space, on a webpage made available to your browser via satellite technology, the gospel passage for next Sunday is about a conversation Jesus has with his disciples on the question of his identity – who do people say I am? Who do the disciples say he is? And we hear Peter’s response, his profession of faith. Some two thousand years separates us from this conversation, the culture of these times so very different from our age of information technology and artificial intelligence. Still, we stop to reflect on these verses of Good News in order to make Jesus a living presence in our lives today.
In essence, the same question is being asked of us again next Sunday: “Who do people say I am?” How do I make sense of the Jesus experience? What effect does this knowing/ believing have in my daily living? How do I profess my faith? What does that mean? Such questions can’t be answered on Twitter or with a post on FB (Facebook). They need space and time. Perception and recognition unfolds slowly.
All four gospels include texts concerning the identity of Jesus. Mark (8:27-30) and Luke (9:18-21) record similar accounts and Peter’s declaration. In today’s Gospel, Peter recognises Jesus as the Messiah and Son of the living God, a double profession if you like. It is interesting to note that in John’s gospel it is a woman, Martha, who makes such a profession of faith: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (11:27).
Caesarea Philippi in Southern Syria, at the base of Mount Hermon was a place of natural beauty, the source of the River Jordan, a temple to ancient deities including Pan (Seer and fortune teller giver of revelations). It was the place of the ‘pagan’ Gate of Hades and recognised as a sacred space: Phoenicians, Syrians and nomadic peoples would have stopped to rest and to reflect on the beauty and power of nature in this place. Matthew’s community would have been tuned into the significance of this place, with its many allusions to Semitic traditions.
Why was Jesus interested in knowing what people thought of him? Maybe, at a basic human level, he was just curious to know what was being said of him. Perhaps Jesus as the teacher, wanted to know if his message was getting through to the disciples. He was responsible for the formation of this small embryonic group of believers and it would be this group that would give witness to and carry on his message of good news. Peter has intuited that Jesus, because of his teachings and praxis, is the Saviour, the one who heals, the one spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures and yet Jesus illuminates something more, something of the divine within. Such recognition takes time. Jesus did not want pre-conceived notions of Messiah spread about, and so he warns the disciples not to tell anyone. It took the nascent Christian communities decades of reflection and debate to come to an understanding of who Jesus was/is. 2000 years later, Christian communities continue this on-going search, seeking to make sense of the Jesus experience for their lives today in 2017.
Who do you say I am? What pre-conceived notions of the divine do we need to let go of? How do we intuit the divine in and through us, in and through material world? These remain challenging questions for us.
In light of the cosmology being revealed by science, we know that the universe is still unfinished, is still unfolding and emerging, and we ask how the story of the universe can illuminate and unfold the story of Jesus today? Who is Christ in our time? Contemplating such questions and wondering at the material world through scientific study, Teilhard de Chardin speaks of a ‘within-ness and without-ness’, and for Teilhard, evolution is the rise of this within-ness and without-ness: the whole evolution process leads to the emergence of love, of consciousness, finding full expression in Jesus of Nazareth.
Teilhard’s formative years were spent gazing and observing the rocks of the Auvergne Mountains. A sacred space for me is our organic garden, full of life, beauty and biodiversity. Often, in spite of the great variety of fruit and vegetables I am drawn to a very small blue flower, called, Borage. The origins of this flower are in Aleppo, in Syria. I wonder if Jesus and the disciples noticed this little flower on the way to Caesarea Philippi? My mind wanders to Aleppo today, I think of the children trying to survive in this hellish place, the once vibrant environment reduced to moonscape. I pray for them and for a softening of heart by the diabolic regime. I pray that as homo-sapiens (wise-ones) we might evolve to realise that violence and destruction of the other does not lead to life, the fullness of live that Jesus preached and witnessed to. I pray that we too, like Jesus, can be a healing presence in our communities.
An elderly sister I know is dying with cancer, and several times I have heard people say she really is a saint. Sadly, sometimes we take time to appreciate a person only after they have died. In the business and speed of modern day living it is difficult simply to stop and smell the flowers; to be mindful and recognise those who have inspired us and others to live well and at peace within the whole community of life?
Recognition of Jesus as Saviour and Lord comes slowly. Perhaps, like Jesus, we can go to the sacred places in our lives, hear the deeper questions and allow ourselves time to ponder them: contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere.
Sr. Colette Kane OP