In nomine Jesu!
There was no good reason for Jesus and his disciples to go all the way up to Caesarea Philippi -- modern-day Banias. Banias is that little finger of Israel that pokes into Lebanon and Syria. It's a pagan site -- with temples to the gods Julius and Augustus Caesar -- as well as to the gods Jupiter and Pan. It has several caves and plenty of springing fountains of cool, fresh water -- the headwaters of the River Jordan. Caesarea Philippi was a combination spa, religious retreat and political and commercial center; a gathering place for the Roman Imperial elite -- consuls, senators, generals -- to mingle with their Herodian puppets and the upper crust of Judea's business class. Anybody who was anybody went to Caesarea Philippi to behave together like a sort of first century Martha's Vineyard. They weren't supposed to be doing business. Nevertheless, this is where the business was done. Caesarea Philippi was for the elite, the crΓ©me de la crΓ©me of the imperial domination system, and Rabbi Jesus and his disciples from the wrong end of that system had no business being thereat all. At Caesarea Philippi, Caesar was "the lord, the son of the living god." The only explanation for Jesus and disciples
being there was to get Peter to say, right there in the midst of the imperial elite, that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord and Messiah and Son of the living God. Peter, of course, was most happy to comply.
But that was last week.
This week, Jesus leads the disciples down from Banias. Finally, they're on their way to Jerusalem. The disciples are delighted. Now, finally, their Lord and Messiah is leading them to match the Emperor Caesar, the Roman legions, the Herodian overlords, the oppressive business class and the whole domination system power for power. Jesus does nothing to dissuade them about his intentions. To the contrary: Jesus makes clear that confronting these people and this system with lordly, son-of-the-living-God power is precisely his plan. But Jesus does confound them. First, by defining lordly, son-of-the-living God power and, second, by teaching them how they -- and ultimately we -- can use that same lordly, son-of-the-living-God power to replace the system that oppresses them. That system will collapse, Jesus says, and the kingdom of Caesar will be transformed into the kingdom of heaven on earth as in heaven. All
this will happen, Jesus says, when he "go[es] to Jerusalem to undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" and will continue to happen as they "deny themselves and take up their cross and follow." This, Jesus says, is life-changing, system-transforming lordly, son-of-the-living God power. And when Jesus says this; when Jesus reveals the kingdom of heaven's strategic and tactical plan, the disciples stop dead in their tracks: "What'chu talkin' 'bout, Jesus?"
In almost the exact same situation, we have almost the exact same response. Just like those disciples, in the face of the principalities and powers, politicians and corporations, technologies, paralyses, ailments and diagnoses and that seem too big, too amorphous and too powerful, we feel confounded.
For the disciples and, I believe, for us, it's actually worse than that. Because what we really want is power; not God's kind of power but Caesar's kind of power -- retributive power -- the kind of power that throws the bums out so that we can be -- benignly, of course, responsibly, of course -- in control: In control of our lives; in
control of our health; in control of our time; in control of our future; in control of all of the things we experience as incontrollable. Today Jesus reminds us that because he went "to Jerusalem to undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" and just as importantly -- and as the consequence of what Jesus endured -- that when we "deny themselves and take up their cross and follow," we have the same power and can face, endure and transform anything!
It is for this reason that Jesus does more than just walk with us, teach us, and remind us of what he once did in the dark and distant past. It is for this reason -- that we might have lordly, son-of-the-living God power -- that Jesus gathers us and comes to us and is present among us as crucified and risen Lord accessible to all in the bread and wine of the Eucharistic feast. Christ comes to us now so that we will not feel powerless; so that we will not feel overwhelmed, so that we will not be alone and so that we will not succumb to our all-too-human tendency to see dominating power as the solution to every problem of control. Jesus says, "Take up your cross and follow me;" and then
gathers us and nourishes to us with God's strength for our way.
Every Sunday -- in some cases, every day -- we pray as Jesus taught us: "for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever;" and then we add "Amen," or in Luther's words, "this is most certainly true."
But this is also most certainly true -- that "God's kingdom and power and glory are ours" also, not so that we can control, but so that we can serve. It is the same kind of power that Jesus exercises when he went "to Jerusalem to undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." God's power. Our power. The only power that can ever change the world.
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
in the City of New York