So I want us to meditate on the Church, specifically on its unity and on its journey through this world towards eternal life in the world to come. To begin, the passage today begins by telling us that Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi. Now, this is a very different setting from what immediately precedes today’s Gospel. Before, we were with Jesus at the Sea of Galilee, but Caesarea Philippi was some twenty miles north of there. And not only that, but it was not a Jewish area, but was rather populated mostly by Gentiles. This is significant. In the previous chapter, in Matthew 15, we read of the intense experiences of the feeding of the four thousand and the various disputes Jesus had with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Those experiences are indicative of the inevitable turmoil that comes about when Jesus, himself a Jew, begins revealing himself as the Messiah, the hope of Israel. But this journey to Caesarea Philippi represents a departure from all of that. To go to Caesarea Philippi is to take a break from the cacophony of a people who are anxious to figure out just who this Jesus is, and who are personally invested in the answer. By contrast, Jesus and the disciples have come to a place surrounded by those for whom Jesus’ identity is really neither here nor there. But given the context, this journey away from their own people suggests that perhaps Jesus and the disciples are in need of a moment of clarity.
Maybe this sanctuary is kind of like that for you. Perhaps this place is a place set apart from the unremitting engagements and demands of your normal life where you can hope to experience the clarity of singleness of heart. And maybe this town that for Jesus and the disciples is a place of strangers is kind of like the place where the Church always becomes conscious of herself. The Church always knows herself to be a stranger in a strange land, yearning for the New Jerusalem amidst the exile of this world that is passing away. It is precisely by being a stranger that the Church can perceive what the world cannot; it is the means by which the light overcomes the darkness.