A Professor of New Testament studies names Thomas W Manson was born in England and educated in both England and Scotland. After a decade of research he completed a book entitled “The Teaching of Jesus’, and 70 years after it was published it was still the major text on this subject in the English-speaking world. Though I never had opportunity to meet this man his writings made a huge impression on us in our theological studies. For me and many others, his reference to understanding Jesus’ life and work as a mountain top experience really hits home!
I don’t pretend to be a great hiker or mountain climber, but I do have a clear memory of one great climb to a mountain top. I was almost 19 years old, caddying for the summer at the Banff Springs Hotel Golf Course. Two fellow caddies joined me on our day off and we set out to climb Mount Rundle on a sunny August morning. After 5.5 hours we reached our goal and the view was spectacular. We were still in warm sunshine. We paused to rest, eat and drink, then started the downward path which was in the shade all the way. It was a turning-point that surprised us. We had great difficulty avoiding stumbles on the downward trail. After 2.5 hours we reached the bottom, grateful that we had not injured ourselves.
Six years later I began to see the parallels between climbing a mountain in the sunshine and descending in the shade, and Dr. Manson’s description of Jesus’ life and teachings which were all encouraging for a long time, and then abruptly changed. That turning point was the experience described in our gospel lesson today. “Jesus asked his disciples ‘Who do people say that I am?’ and they answered him ‘John the Baptist’ and others, Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets’. He asked them ‘but who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’. Then Jesus said “and I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”. Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
From this point on the tide has turned. Up to this point the stories, parables and other teachings of Jesus were bringing hope and encouragement to the great crowds that followed him. It was as if the sun was shining and there was a hopeful atmosphere. Following this experience at Caesarea Philippi, everything is different. Jesus began to teach the disciples that he must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed.
This passage raises a number of issues that have divided Christians. The Roman Catholic Church believes that Jesus handed over spiritual authority to Peter and his successors. The major Protestant Churches believe that the promise was only to Peter and that Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah is the foundation on which the church is built.
So this journey as disciples of Jesus was going downhill and it must have been a challenging time for the disciples who had left everything to follow Jesus. In our own personal life journeys perhaps we have had a similar experience. Life has been filled with worthwhile work, close friends, cherished families and we have been on the top of the world. Then something happens that causes us to feel crushed, sad, without hope. We are no longer on the mountain top enjoying the view and feeling truly blessed.
Wherever we are on our faith journey, enjoying the mountain top experience or faithfully coping with significant challenges every day …… be assured that you are surrounded at all times by a loving and forgiving God. Amen.