But you – who do you say I am?
To make sense of any passage in scripture it is necessary not only to read the actual text closely and carefully, we also need to read and pray the text within its context. Where does the passage fit within the flow of the narrative – as a whole and looking at the passages that immediately precede and follow the passage? It is also necessary to consider the background – the culture, the history and the geography. Not all of these items will be equally important and it is important to take the cues from the text itself.
Today we are told that Jesus takes the disciples away from the crowds (a bit of a theme since the death of his cousin John) way up in the north of Israel, to the border of Lebanon and Syria and the rocky foothills of Mount Hermon. Although technically it was still Israel, it was about as foreign as you could get. There were at least 14 shrines and temples dedicated to the worship of foreign gods, and the newly built city of Caesarea Philippi (being built by one of the sons of Herod the Great, Philip the Tetrarch, in honour of the Caesar) featured a temple to the Roman god Pan. There was a spring there, and the contemporary Jewish-Roman historian Josephus confirms that it is believed to be the source of the River Jordan which was so central to the life and history of Israel.
It is in this location that Jesus takes the disciples aside to ask them these two questions: “who do the people say I am”, and more significantly, “and you – who do you say I am?” The answer that Rocky Simon gives is significant and the affirmation that Jesus offers him is also – but the invitation that this question offers to each of us remains.
Sunday 21, Year A. Matthew 16:13-20