Location, location, location. We know how important location is, but when it comes to interpreting the Bible, it matters on many levels. There’s location in time and literary location. There’s location in history and societal locations. There’s location in a character’s life and location of place.
You could construct a whole sermon on the levels of location assumed in Mark 8. You could build an entire sermon on one level and why it matters for our lives. Take all of the locations I mentioned, attempt an answer, and then ask what difference it makes. What difference does it make that we are three chapters away from Jerusalem? What difference does it make that this is smack dab in the middle of Mark and includes the first passion prediction? What difference does it make that we are in 30ish C.E. with Palestine as a Roman province? What difference does it make that these are a bunch of ragtag followers up against Hellenism and the Roman Empire? What difference does it make for Peter in his life? What difference does it make that it takes place in Caesarea Philippi, the center of worship of the emperor and the Greek god Pan? Choose one and work it — because location matters.
Why does location matter, no matter what the level? Well, simply, obviously, it locates you. It grounds you. It gives you a referent. We rely on location all the time. “What year was it that…? What restaurant did we go to when…? Was time was it that…? How old was grandma when…? Were you in high school or college when…?” Location becomes an interpretive lens through which we make sense of events in our lives. We mark life by location. And when we can’t quite recall the specific location, whatever level of location we need as our referent, it’s a little disquieting and disturbing. We find ourselves scrambling a little. Where was it? When? With whom? Because location matters. When location is denied, when location is upended, or when location needs to change in the face of danger, the results are witnessed in the refugee crisis in Europe. “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land,” writes Somali-British poet Warsan Shire.
Location, in the end, is settling, safe, secure which is maybe why Jesus picked this location in time and place to address Peter. A location that is exactly the opposite of settling, safe, and secure on all levels. There’s a theological import here, a theological necessity to this location. The God that Jesus reveals is unsettling, disrupting, and there’s no better way to get this point across than to ask Peter this question here and now. Imagine Peter’s response — “Wait, Jesus, you are asking me what? Now? Here? And with whom and in front of whom? Are you kidding me, Jesus?” So we scramble for what we think is the right answer for this time and place and purpose. And that’s what Peter offers Jesus only to find out that all is changed because God changed locations. No longer in the heavens. No longer behind the curtain. God is out there. Who knows where God will show up? And when and where God shows up means a radical reorientation of the meaning of location.
Location matters to God, especially in Mark. Or, maybe we should say God upends expectations of location. We expect God to be in certain places. We expect God to appear at certain times. We expect God show up in particular ways. But it doesn’t work out that way. Which is why Jesus has to ask Peter, “Who do you say that I am” here and now and in this place. No one is expecting this question here and now and in this place, least of all Peter. And all of a sudden location matters, location is reimagined, location means something different.
Because here’s the thing, even the meaning of the location itself changes once you start thinking about it. Facebook wants to know your location. But, doesn’t your location matter differently depending on the situation, the circumstance, the persons there? The location itself is reinterpreted in that very moment. No one location seems to override the other. We start to realize the levels of location that are all coming together to create a moment like no other and can never be repeated. That’s why Caesarea Philippi. Now. What’s your Caesarea Philippi moment?
Jesus is asking Peter to give witness to who Jesus is. But in doing so, there and then, he is also asking Peter to take a new look at his location of place, of time, of character. Peter has to reevaluate what living in the midst of Empire means. Peter has to reevaluate the meaning of this time that Jesus would ask this question now. Peter has to examine his own sense of where he is because where he is now has an effect on who he is and who he will become.
Location is never without significant meaning. Never. And locations create a convergence of meaning all coming together in a moment that then births something completely new. It’s the intersection of our locations that make up our memories, always. But Jesus is now saying to Peter, and to us, it is the intersection of these locations that will lay claim on our future. Therein lies the promise. Because of God’s determination to change locations, now our location, on whatever level, every level, will forever secure the presence of God.