An earlier post by Joe describes the Catholic understanding of Matthew 16:18. Something that is not taken into account enough when discussing this verse is the location in which it was uttered. After a pilgrimage in the Holy Land a couple years ago, I can’t hear this verse without the tremendous geological and cultural backdrop of the moment coming to mind. Soon to be transitional deacon Nick Blaha, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas who is finishing his pilgrimage in the Holy Land, has an excellent description of what I mean:
Our travels have brought us to the most extreme northern portion of our pilgrimage. The day began with a visit to the headwaters of the Jordan river known as “Banyas,” an Arabic form of the original Greek name of Paneas. True to its name, this site was dedicated to the Greek nature god Pan, and a temple was erected in front of the cave from which the waters of the Jordan once sprang. In the decades prior to Jesus’ life, Herod’s son Philip rededicated the area to Caesar (and tacked on an honorific to himself in the process—hence, Caesarea Philippi was its Roman name). Scripture enthusiasts will recognize this name as the place where Jesus posed a remarkable question to his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Today, it is recognized as the place in which Peter made the first confession of Christ’s divinity, and in acknowledgment of which Jesus promised to build his Church upon the rock of Peter’s faith.
This event is all the more fascinating given the context of the conversation. Given that the city had long been a center of pagan worship of Pan (regarded as the son of Zeus), Jesus’ question is all the more meaningful. Against the backdrop of a deity resembling a bizarre mixture of man and goat, the God-man is revealed not as a monstrosity but as the ultimate harmonization of the Creator and the creature. In fact, it is in Christ that human beings most truly become what they are.
At the foot of the daunting rock face where the Greek god of shepherds was worshipped, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, appoints a new shepherd for his people that will lead all true shepherds in right worship. It is in the midst of a Pantheon of Opinion that the Truth speaks. It sounds like the Pantheon of Opinion is again being honored in some circles (well, unless you are Catholic).