The Founding of the Church in Caesaria Philippi

Matthew 16: 13- 23
Jer 31:31-34 / Psa 51:12-15,18-19

It is well for you, Simon Barjona, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven.
(Matthew 16:17)

Life is guided not by what we prize
But what we fully believe.
If we still have no faith in Christ,
We have not yet started to live.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Reflection

Why did Jesus choose to ask this question in Caesarea Philippi, a pagan city on the southwestern slope of Mt. Hebron? There were few areas with more religious significance than Caesarea Philippi, the site of worship for pagan gods since early Roman times. It was scattered with the temples of Syrian idols, a place beneath the shadow of ancient gods. Emperor Caesar Augustus gave this region to King Herod, who built a temple of white marble there in honor of his patron; but the city was built only later by his son King Herod Philip, thus the name.

With the sheer rock cliff of the worship site as backdrop, this was an ideal place for our Lord to make His historic pronouncements about Simon Peter, and the building of His Church. The rocky cliffs of Caesaria Philippi must have reverberated with the declaration of St. Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” His words seemed to challenge the “gods” in the niches of the cliffs and their devotees who worshiped there. It was perhaps no mere chance or semantics that in such surroundings our Lord would use the word “rock” metaphorically in christening Simon, the humble fisherman, “Peter” (Petros), on whose shoulders early Christianity would be carried (On this rock I will build My church).

In these critical times when our Church is being rocked (forgive the pun) with all kinds of trials and scandals, it is so reassuring to reflect on this fact that no matter what challenges we face, our Church was built by God on solid rock, “… the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Mt. 16:18)

Eternal Father, thank You for making us see that You are always with us in your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, Your Church, against all forces of evil. Grant us the grace and wisdom to be firm in our faith always, as You are our Rock and our Foundation.

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