And Jesus went on from there and passed along the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain, and sat down there. Matthew 15.29
Friday evening I returned from five days in Galilee. Stories about Jesus’ ministry in and around Galilee compromise about two-thirds of the stories written about him in the four books of the gospel and when pilgriming there, I perceived what I can only describe as palpable: The Word of God in sacred Scripture coming to life; in sight, in sound… a call to transformation through the teachings of Jesus Christ in the very context in which his words were first heard. The two places that struck me the most were Caesarea Philippi, where Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, and Tabgha, the area associated with the multiplication of the loaves and with the Beatitudes, and by implication, the Sermon on the Mount. Below are some pictures and reflections on the texts related to them.
Caesarea Philippi: Matthew 16.13-19
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.’
“Philip’s Caesarea” is an ancient Roman city in Northern Galilee near the base of Mount Hermon. Nearby the ancient city are cliffs with shrines and grottos associated with the Greek god Pan, hence its original name, Paneas, which later became Caesarea Paneas and is now called Banias (it seems everyplace in the Holy Land has at least three names).
When standing in front of the shrines and grottos it seems not only plausible but doubtless why the authors of the gospel might recount Caesarea Philippi as the place where Jesus would pause to ask his disciples, “By the way, who do people say that the Son of Man is ?” Jesus must surely be asking his followers, “Do you think that the salvation or the healing of the world is possible with sacrifices made to the god of goats?” A moment later, the disciple named Simon-Peter responds, “You are the Messiah! the Son of the living God!” And Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon-Barjona (son of Jona)… and I tell you, you are (now just) Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the powers of death will not prevail against it. And whatever you bind on earth…”
It’s just there I’m afraid, at the end of that pericope (Matthew 16.18-19), that if we dusted for the fingerprints of the early church on the canonical gospels we’d certainly find them… The name Petros means ‘rock’ or ‘ledge’ or ‘cliff,” and as much as the Apostolic Fathers might wish to think so, it seems unlikely that Jesus would suggest that Jesus was or would be building his church on the disciple named Simon-Peter who has now become just-Peter! But it does seem possible to me that what Jesus might have been saying, if in fact he did say what is recorded by Matthew, was that the disciple and almost-Apostle, after his encounter with and confession of Jesus as the Christ, used to be one person (Simon-Peter) and is now becoming another person (just-Peter): That his past or his history has, or is being, or needs to be left behind. And it does seem likely to me that what Jesus might have alternatively (or also) been saying is that he would build his church not upon the disciple but rather upon those very rocks pictured above; from, or on, or by, the transformation of the culture those rocks and shrines symbolized and represented; from the gods and shepherds of goats, from their mythic associations, from the real opiate of the people: war and oppression and capitalism and power.
Tagbha: Matthew 6.25-34; Luke 12.22-32
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’
When walking through the lush and beautiful landscape around the sea of Galilee near Tabgha the words of Jesus on the mount or plain – the greatest ethical teachings of all the New Testament – came alive in a new way. I’d been noticing the ravens, here, there, everywhere, since the day I arrived at Tantur. And then to be there in Tabgha – on the northwestern shore of the sea of Galilee amidst the flora, fauna, and more ravens – I heard the words of Jesus coming to life in the natural life around me: “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds… Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith?”
Palpable, then speechless. There’s more to say but I don’t know yet what that is.