So Jesus and the disciples take a road trip. They head northeast to Bethsaida where Jesus gives sight to a blind man. Of course, that didn’t go so well. For some reason Jesus’ first attempt leaves the man with blurred vision and like current day eye docs who cut on corneas, Jesus brings the man in for a second office visit.
But then it is on up into the hills and lower mountain slopes of Caesarea Philippi. Of course, the locals still called it Panias—after Pan, the half-man, half goat god who likes drinking parties and chasing women. He also was the god who guarded thresholds and gateways—including a particular gateway in Panias. Apparently Pan was good at his job. It is why our word—panic—means, well PANIC! In the side of a bluff on the lower slopes of Mount Hermon, there was a cave—the grotto of Pan. The cave was understood as a passageway to the underworld—known as the Gates of Hades (or Hell!) Sound familiar? Pan’s job was to keep the riff-raff out (or was it “in” ?) of the underworld with his crazy antics.
Well, King Philip had cleaned it up a bit, dedicated a temple to worship the Caesar, and renamed the place. But Philip’s renovations didn’t really change anything. Whatever you called the place, it was a pagan party town—complete with a pantheon of gods and goddesses to worship. And of course, folks who traveled there and lived there was always aware that they were in a place that was the crossroads for the all the powers of the spiritual world. In fact, if you go there today you can see the “Gates of Hell” in the cliff face just above the springs that give rise to the River Jordan.
So what is a good Jewish rabbi and his disciples doing in a place like this? That’s a good question for Sunday as we look at Mark 8:27-9.1 and find ourselves confronted with a stunning question from Jesus himself!