Saints Peter and Paul
“But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed…”
We remember today, Saints Peter and Paul who guided the early church just after the time of Jesus’ Ascension. Both died as martyrs for their Faith in Rome, in the early 60s AD, just thirty years after the death of Jesus.
Peter was crucified upside down in the courtyard to the left of St. Peter’s Basilica (in the courtyard behind the arch where the Swiss Guards stand on duty) and Paul was beheaded between just outside of Rome.
Peter was buried in the nearest cemetery which was on top of Vatican Hill and St. Peter’s Basilica was later built on top of Peter’s tomb, the main altar being directly over that tomb. Paul was also buried in the nearest cemetery and the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls was later build on top of his tomb, the main altar being directly on top of his place of burial.
Both these men were called to be missionaries: Peter – first to be called by Jesus to be an apostle, who began his mission to the Jewish people; Paul – last to be called by Jesus as apostles, who knew his mission was to the Gentiles.
Both gifted with boldness and zeal to bring the Gospel to the ends of the world. They have left to us their teaching: Peter – tradition holds that St. Mark’s Gospel is based upon Peter’s teaching and we have letters from Peter and record of his sermons in Acts; Paul – is the writer of most of the letters of the New Testament and we have his sermons recorded, also, in The Acts of The Apostles. We know that while Paul had the very best education in the finest Jewish schools, Peter had no formal training that we are aware of – he was a fisherman, called to leave the mending of nets, to become among the greatest fishers of people for Jesus.
We, also, know that the two greatest apostles of the Christian Faith, were also flawed, and fraught with deeply human weaknesses. Peter having been the first to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ – the chosen one - of God; quickly denied ever even knowing Jesus, the man, on the night of his trial. Paul, a high-ranking Pharisee, who led the arrest and torture of men, women and children, who dared to follow the Way of Jesus, was struck down on his way to arrest such followers; his pocket full of warrants permitting him to carry out that evil deed.
So why did Jesus call both Peter and Paul to build and lead God’s Church – which, remember, means simply the gathering of the people (Greek: Eklesia) and in doing so invite them to continue Jesus’ work of building God’s kingdom?
Perhaps, it makes more sense for us to consider WHO he called and the MANNER in which they were called.
ST. PETER – Imagine, what happened to Peter, originally known as Simon – the one who so confidently proclaimed: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” Imagine how he felt after he threw it all away in those three denials of every knowing Jesus on that awful night before Jesus was crucified. Imagine the next time he encountered Jesus – after having gone back to the day job; how ashamed he must have been when Jesus invited him to share breakfast, asking him three times that question, “Do you love me?” asked - as once again - Peter warmed his hands over a charcoal fire. Imagine the shame; the painful memory; he knows; I let him down.
Instead of saying: Simon, you let me down when I needed you most; how can I trust you? Instead Jesus, said – yes, you let me down; but this time, I am giving you real responsibility – now go and build my church. From then on, “Simon” is known for evermore, by the famous nickname Jesus gave him – “Peter”: the man of rock.
ST. PAUL - Here was a man whose great zeal would cleanse the whole world of any heresy, but who began by getting the whole thing wrong. He discovered on the road to Damascus that he was fighting against God. In deep humility, he submitted himself to our Lord and counted everything – his previous understanding of his faith, his reputation, his position among the leading Pharisees, even his family and his nation – he counted it all as nothing compared with being found and made whole by Christ.
Because of Paul’s example we have a special hope for even the most ardent opponents of the Church. Because of Paul’s example, we have a special hope that Christ will overcome every opposition we still feel in our own hearts to giving ourselves wholly to Jesus.
But remember, what we learn from Peter and Paul, is that the most significant faith confessions are not made in church assemblies or theological seminaries. The most powerful confessions of faith are made by people like you and me in those unexpected, unguarded moments, when the conversation goes where you never expected it to go. Those moments when we feel most fragile; totally inadequate and not up to the job. Those Peter and Paul moments, when God’s total and unconditional love looks at us, through Jesus and says: I love you BECAUSE of your frailty; I love you because of WHO you are: so go on… be the rock on which I can build my kingdom; and we can say – in times of weakness and trial. “…the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me, the message might be fully proclaimed…”.
Inspired by Saints Peter and Paul, know you have been forgiven; know you are loved; and know you have been healed in Jesus’ name – so take heart: go and forgive; go and love; go and heal in Jesus’ name! Amen.