Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Matthew 16:13-20 (NRSV)
Over the course of our pilgrimage we have been walking in the footsteps of Jesus. The course has been intentionally structured to parallel the chronological events of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. We started in Jerusalem and like most pilgrims who have come before us, visited the most holy site in Christianity, the Holy Sepulchre. From there we went to Nazareth for the Annunciation. Then to Ein Kerem for the Visitation and Bethlehem for the Nativity. We then came up here to Galilee to follow Jesus as he called his disciples and gave his Sermon on the Mount (or the field if you are Luke). Our pilgrimage has now come a turning point as we visited Caesarea Philippi, the site of Peter’s Confession as found in the passage above. This passage, along with what we will see today on Mount Tabor that commemorates the Transfiguration, is also a turning point, a hinge point in Jesus’ ministry. It is from here that like we, like Jesus, will turn our backs on Galilee, the place of Jesus’ home and ministry and turn towards Jerusalem. Like Jesus, we know what awaits us for the rest of our pilgrimage…walking in the footsteps of Jesus as we remember his gruesome death and glorious resurrection.
16 years ago I sat at Caesarea Philippi and reflected upon these same words from Matthew. Of all the places I visited on that pilgrimage it was this story and this place that stuck with me the most…and I am beginning to think it had the biggest impact on me. This time it is no different. Matthew’s account at Caesarea Philippi is all about identity. Jesus first asks the disciples what other people are saying about who he is, “…who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” He gets the responses that I imagine he thought he would in that people think the Son of Man is someone who has gone before them. But then, he asks the disciples, “…who do you say that I am?” With that question Peter, who often doesn’t get it, nails it on the head. Peter responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” From his experience of following Jesus, Peter has seen through Jesus’ words and actions his real identity as the Son of God. For a man who has not always been on point and who will deny Jesus three times, Peter gets it.
While Lauren and I sat under the fig trees feeling the cool breezes and listening to the running water of the mountain springs, I reflected on Jesus’ question, “who do you say that I am?” For me Jesus is redeemer. No matter how many mistakes I have made (and I have made my fair share) or will make he will forgive me and welcome me back like the Prodigal Son. That means that while I always strive to be the creature that God has called me to be, I am not perfect nor am I supposed to be perfect. For me Jesus is healer. I have been open about my clinical depression and the depths of darkness that I once dwelled in. During those years of darkness there was a voice pulling at my heart and my mind that prevented me from going over the edge into the abyss, a voice that assured me there was more to life than what I was feeling. For me Jesus is teacher. Having grown up in the Church and the Boy Scouts I have learned about selfless servant leadership, to give of myself, and to offer my gifts to the world. I have learned to be the man I am today because of the teachings of Jesus Christ.
While I may know who Jesus is the real question is so what, how will this make a difference in the world around me? This then begs the broader question, who do you say that I am? My hope is that who I am, my words and my actions, will reflect the teachings and love of Christ. So I ask you, who do you say that I am? Who do people say you are?