Caesarea Philippi




There is a place today in Northern Israel where Arabs and Christians and Jews all go to enjoy themselves. It is a lovely shady place called Banyas, the Arabic form of the Greek god Pan- the god of the woods. An idyllic pagan place! There is a tumbling stream pouring down from Mount Hermon, fresh and full, the only sound in a world of silence. And close by, the rose limestone remains of the palace of Philip the Tetrarch, dating from the days of Jesus. There are plenty of secluded walks, and one can go over to the waterfalls or through the woods. It is a place for young and old, and for all creeds and none. This is the Caesarea Philippi of today's gospel which recalls the famous confession of Peter and the rebuke from Jesus. Peter’s confession was right; his reaction to Jesus was wrong.


It is twenty miles or so, from the lake of Galilee up to Banyas. In the days of Jesus it was bordering on Gentile territory. The fact that Philip the Tetrarch was there was enough to keep it within the known confines of Jewish territory. We are only told that Jesus was in the villages of that district. We might be allowed to think that the Gospel was already pushing beyond the edges of Jewish terrain though it is clear that Jesus did not go on any Gentile mission. In his short public ministry he did a great deal of travelling and nearly all on foot. It would have been a good hundred miles south, down the Jordan valley to Jerusalem. And that journey would certainly have taken a week. Jerusalem was to be journey’s end, the place where he would suffer. There he would bring to realization what he intimated to the apostles now at Caesarea Philippi. One must lose one’s life to save it.

A Further Explicitation: Jn 12:24

The theme is developed further in St. John’s gospel in parabolic form. It is one of the great paradoxes of life that a seed cannot produce fruit unless it goes through the process of being put in the earth and left to the mysteries of seeming death for growth. Such is the nature of God`s creation. What in actual fact it means for a human being is spelled out by what happened in the life and death of Jesus. He lived the life of obedience, in total loving self renunciation. The result was death first for him and then life giving resurrection. In practice Jesus asked the disciples to leave father and mother and everyone as he did, for the sake of the kingdom. And in John`s gospel Jesus is himself the kingdom. So it all meant being about what Jesus was about, and it was all possible because Jesus was with his followers and would be with them intimately, like the branches in a vine.

Our Experience

In ordinary practice however how does it all work out for us? It is a way of life and it can only be experienced by the peace and goodness that come from following this way, in the heart of each one of us and in the community. It is a simple fact that people who take care of others and do not care primarily for themselves not only have peace but they generate peace. To be like this is not the work of one day. It is the work of a lifetime. It is also a sign of freedom to be able to take second place. But this must be done out of love and not just out of stoicism. Some people do it and complain that ‘I am taking care of such and such a person because nobody else will’! This is not what Christianity is about. It is the exact opposite. One simply asks what is the heart and mind of Christ Jesus? The answer is obvious. And while this saying of dying to self comes up in different versions in the four gospels the meaning always seems basically to be the same. Jesus lived for others, the man for others, and those who follow him want to do exactly that. 


Believers live through all the circumstances and dispositions we call history. And the original history of Jesus goes on being remembered. The leaders of the Jews would not accept his understanding of himself as Messiah and the Son of God. A suffering Messiah had no place in their thought and a self-declared Son of God was blasphemy. So they connived with the Romans to have him killed. Later community problems would not just come from hostile people outside the believing circle; they would be found in their own midst. Heresy came from believers in him as only heresy can. Some initial converts were scandalized at the claims he had made and which were made for him. They were not thrown out of the Christian community; they walked away. John chapter six chronicles some of these. And whatever hesitation Peter would have at Caesarea Philippi about a suffering Messiah it is remarkable that when Jesus was arrested none of the apostles was arrested with him. So the group that Jesus had formed was not suspected of political and social disturbance. They had no designs against the Romans. He had formed them with a very different picture of the kingdom of God than that held by other contemporaries. That Jesus addressed the house of Israel first is clear, but they refused his overtures. He would restore them as the New Israel of God, on the lines of the Beatitudes, and ultimately his followers would have a mission to the whole world. Universal salvation was being offered as universal peace and reconciliation. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself ( 2 Cor 5:18-19). We see just how hard it is to follow in the steps of Jesus. The problems come not just from without but from within the church itself. The present successor of Peter, pope Francis, must be experiencing something of this now! Not for nothing do we pray for our pope and bishop at every Mass. In doing so we are also praying for ourselves.

A happy Sunday to you all. Amen. 


Rev Richard J. Taylor.

Spiritual Advisor, Matercare International

Boarbank Hall, Cumbria , UK