Simon son of Judah!
So, there is this cave at Caesarea Philippi; or at the place the Bible refers to as Caesarea Philippi. Tourists take pictures. Later they caption it (the cave opening): Where Jesus asked his disciples "Who do the people say I am?" Or: Where Peter answered, "You are the Messiah. The Son of the Living God (v.16)."
Contemporary photographs cannot capture the atmospherics of our text. I have heard someone describe 1st century Caesarea Philippi as imperially charged. In other words, then, you could’ve reached out and touched the magnitude of Roman rule.
“But who do you say I am?”: Jesus doesn’t ask this question at any ole’ place. It’ leaves the lips of our Lord in a place that is named for Caesar. Caesar is Lord. Duh.
One interpreter invites us to imagine a kind of Mount Rushmore and I think that helps us into the shoes of the disciples. All around them that day were monuments to governance. Statues representing the accepted powers were placed in niches—niches carved into the side of a nearby cliff.
It’s a bold move, then, to promote an alternative. Jesus does it. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church...(v.18)”
Ahem. Rome hasn’t asked anyone to build a community called church.
This is serious stuff. So serious that humor is not optional but rather, a necessity. There may be some barely detectable playfulness before us—playfulness made manifest in nicknaming. Jesus calls Peter “Simon son of Jonah” and as far as anyone can tell, Peter’s father was not named Jonah. Kayla McClurg’s words:
I wonder what Jesus might have meant, calling Simon “son of Jonah.” Maybe Jesus is using humor, which means saying something important in an unexpected way. Simon has just acknowledged him as coming from God. So maybe Jesus is saying, I see you, too, my friend. You come from an honored line yourself—from Jonah, the one who runs away. What a whale of trouble you can get yourself into! Yet God chooses you again and again, even when it means having to chase you down and roust you from your clever hiding places.
Friends, in the midst of big asks that make you feel small, stay in love with God in Jesus who knows you well enough to nickname you. He delights in you; and, in your quirks. Caesarea Philippi? It has nothing on the feeling of being known like that.