Today we celebrate the life and witness of Simon Peter. The gospel reading set for today is Matthew 16:13-19 and recounts Peter’s insight when he declares Jesus to be the Messiah at Caesarea Philippi. At this moment of confession Jesus commissions Peter for his future ministry. I’ve visited the place traditionally believed to be the site of Peter’s confession and it is an impressive setting with a cliff face pitted with cultic shrines. The place is also the origin of the Banais, one of the sources of the river Jordan.
When I think of Peter another place and building come to mind and this is perhaps my favourite church in the Holy Land. St Peter en Gallicantu is situated on the east slope of Mt Zion and is believed to be the site of the house of the priest Caiaphas. The views from the site are stunning and the building is beautiful, decorated with some expertly realised mosaics. Gallicantu means 'cock crow' and the church takes it’s name from the incident during Jesus’ last hours before crucifixion when Peter denied that he even knew the very one he had proclaimed Messiah (Matthew 26:69-75). In the courtyard by the church is a sculpture depicting the scene of Peter’s denial and the sanctuary roof has a golden cockerel which burns in the sunshine.
The reason I find myself drawn to Gallicantu rather than Caesarea Philippi is that this is the Peter I more easily identify with; Peter the denier rather than Peter the confessor. Yet, at this moment of greatest failure I am reminded of the overwhelming grace of God because the story for Peter doesn’t end in the courtyard at Gallicantu. When Peter meets the risen Lord he is forgiven, restored and empowered to fulfil the calling he first received at Caesarea Philippi. So Peter is an inspiration, not because of his success but because of his failure and because God could use even someone like Peter to build his church.
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