Opening Prayer from Psalm 138
Loving God we come to You in thanksgiving for the unfailing love and faithfulness you show us.
When we call out to You, You are there.
When we are tried and troubled, You, give us strength.
You have not shielded us from pain or sorrow but kept us safe, holding us in Your hands with love.
Still our hearts so that we can hear you in the silence and know who You truly are.
Reflection: ‘Who do you say I am?’
The Jewish people had been waiting for a long time. They were waiting for a leader who had been promised centuries before by the prophets. They believed that this leader, the Messiah (‘anointed one’) would rescue them from their pagan oppressors. As their king he who would rule the world with justice. Perhaps in their enthusiasm and hope of a king coming to save them, many Jews failed to see that the prophets also spoke of this king as a suffering servant who would be rejected and killed.
The Gospel of Matthew forms the connecting link between the Old and New Testaments, a reinforcement of the fulfilment of prophecy. Matthew was a Jew determined to demonstrate to his Jewish readers that Jesus was the Messiah the ‘anointed one’. Throughout his Gospel, Matthew continually referred to the prophecies of the Old Testament that were being fulfilled in Jesus. Crowds gathered to hear Jesus and the Gospel is packed with great passages of Jesus’ teaching, miracles and healing. Others were listening and watching too. The Pharisees and Sadducees scrutinized Jesus’ activities trying to discredit him as he confronted them on their hypocrisy. Although from different religious traditions, the Pharisees and Sadducees joined forces to try to trap Jesus and kill him.
By the time we come to Chapter 16, Jesus’ ministry was well established. Yet various attempts by the crowds to identify Jesus pointed to the common conclusion that they regarded him as a prophet. And what of the disciples? They were closer to Jesus, who did they think Jesus was? Different passages in Matthew show that the disciples hadn’t quite grasped yet who Jesus was. To recall from a few verses before, we can read of the disciples’ terror of drowning and of Jesus ‘reaction: ‘You have so little faith…Why did you doubt me?’ (Ch14: 31) and further on as the disciples argued with each other: ‘You have so little faith! …don’t you understand even yet?’ (Ch.16 v7). There must have been a great sense of frustration for Jesus with his disciples!
Jesus’ time on earth was moving on fast. He knew what was going to happen but still had much to do with the urgent questions, was there anyone who understood him and recognised who he was? Jesus needed time to be alone with his disciples away from the crowds. To have quiet he often retreated to a mountain top or to a boat in the middle of a lake but not this time. This time was different. Jesus and his disciples travelled to Caesarea Philippi about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee. There would be no crowds following him there so Jesus would have peace to teach his disciples and to make sure that they grasped who he really was.
Caesarea Philippi was a Roman city steeped in Greek and Roman culture. The city had a Roman economy and a Roman religion. The streets would have been littered with Pagan temples and idols and the city was dominated by a great white marble temple dedicated to Caesar representing the might of the Roman Empire. Around the city there were ancient religious temples of the gods of Syrian-Baal worship. A deep cavern under a nearby hill was said to be the birthplace of the great god Pan, so the area was permeated with legends of the Greek gods. The cavern was also said to be the place where the River Jordan sprung from. Perhaps there was some other significance to Jesus’ decision to go to Caesarea Philippi and not just to escape the crowds. As William Barclay suggested, perhaps Jesus set himself against a background of all the history of the world’s religions.
It was against this setting that Jesus asked his disciples two questions. Firstly: ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is? The answer confirmed what others before had thought: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, certainly a prophet as a forerunner of the Messiah. But then Jesus asked his disciples, ‘But who do you say I am? Peter answered without hesitation confessing ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’.
This was a pivotal point in Jesus’ earthly life.
Somewhat dramatically Peter, who sometimes just didn’t quite ‘get it’ with Jesus, who often just opened his mouth without thinking, who felt fear without Jesus by his side, at that moment, knew precisely who Jesus was. The carpenter from Galilee surrounded by his disciples, fishermen and a tax collector, seen by priests and legal scribes in Jerusalem as a dangerous heretic was the Messiah. In this Roman city, Jesus laid the foundation of a rival kingdom to Caesar’s empire, an empire through faith.
Jesus blessed Peter and with that blessing came the responsibility of being the rock on which Jesus would build his church with Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
The Readings from Isaiah, Romans and Matthew speak of the coming of God. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he sets out practical guidelines to the believers in Rome on Christian life. He writes of a personal responsibility Christians must take and uses the concept of the human body to teach how Christians should live and work together. Paul asks believers to make their bodies a living sacrifice to God guided by the Holy Spirit and to change the ways to live and live in faith.
In the Gospel of Matthew, it is Peter’s confession that is at the heart of following Jesus Christ. Peter represents each and every one of us. He had faults and we can identify with him, those who are afraid and frightened, weak and confused and those who fail. Peter’s confession teaches us that knowing Jesus is personal. It is not knowing about Jesus but to know Jesus, to see God, to believe, have faith and follow the cross.
Hymn Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord! R&S 74
Sung by Mrs. Lucy Cooke. Piano by Mr Andrew Robinson.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
tender to me the promise of his word;
in God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his Name!
Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;
his mercy sure, from age to age to same;
his holy Name–the Lord, the Mighty One
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might!
Powers and dominions lay their glory by
proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight,
the hungry fed, the humble lifted high
Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!
Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
to children’s children and for evermore!
The Magnificat (The Song of Mary)
Timothy Dudley-Smith (1926-) based on Luke 1: 46-55.
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May we live out our faith in word, in action and in love;
knowing the love of God, the Father,
strengthened through know the risen Son
and inspired by the Holy Spirit, now and always.
This week’s reflection is from Mrs Ann Sinclair.