ON THIS SOLEMNITY OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL, APOSTLES the Church universal remembers these two particular Apostles who guided the early church just after the time of Jesus. Both died as martyrs for the faith in Rome, in the early 60’s A.D., just thirty years after the death of Jesus. Each of these two saints is important for different reasons. Peter is important because he was the first Pope and kept the church united which was growing very rapidly in the years following Pentecost. In the first years after Pentecost it was Jews who accepted Jesus as the Savior and so the early church was a very Jewish church. But as time went on Paul began to preach also to non-Jews, the Gentiles as they were called. All of us are Gentiles. His preaching was very successful and he brought huge numbers of non-Jews into the church, so much so that the number of Jews in the church was greatly outnumbered by non-Jews. It is because of Paul that we are now in the Church. So both Peter and Paul had very important tasks in the early church, Peter maintaining the unity in the church which during his lifetime had already spread throughout the Middle East and Europe, and Paul who taught the Jews that Jesus is the fulfillment of their Old Testament hopes and taught the non-Jews that Jesus is the Savior. Whenever you see statues of Peter and Paul, usually Peter is holding a key, symbolizing his duty as head of the church, and Paul is holding the Bible, symbolizing his preaching. In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul tells us something of the difficulties in his preaching journeys (2 Corinthians 11:24-28): “Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.” Three times Paul set out from Syria where he was based and preached all over what we now call Turkey, and in his second and third journeys he preached all over Greece also. Although not one of the Twelve Apostles we call him an apostle of the nations. It is interesting to note the personalities of both Peter and Paul. Peter was impetuous, telling Jesus that he would die with him on Holy Thursday night if necessary (John 13:37) but later that night he denied he knew him. We also remember Peter’s objection to Jesus’ prediction that he would suffer and die in Jerusalem and Jesus said “Get behind me Satan because the way you think is man’s way and not God’s way” (Matt 16:23). Yet what made Peter a suitable candidate for Jesus’ call was his love, so three times Jesus asked him if he loved him and asked him to look after the flock. Paul was a controversial character in his own way. He had a fiery personality. In his early life as Saul of Tarsus, he channeled that fire towards having Christians arrested, persecuted and executed – even witnessing the death of Stephen, the first martyr for Jesus (Acts 8:1). (Incidentally, the Hebrew name given him by his parents was Saul, but, because his father was a Roman citizen (and therefore Saul inherited Roman citizenship), Saul also had the Latin name Paul (Acts 16:37, 22:25-28), the custom of dual names being common in those days.)After Saul’s conversion, Paul’s preaching was fiery and upset the churches. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that Paul then returned to Tarsus, and the next sentence says it all, “the churches throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria were left in peace” (Acts 9:31). Paul spent 10 years back in Tarsus before he began his preaching. It was a time for him to cool down and learn what the death and resurrection of Jesus meant for us all. Why did God call Paul? It would be only someone like him who could see that faith in Jesus demanded a totally new relationship with God for Jews, and also he had a very strong personality which he needed to help the Jews to accept that Jesus was the Savior of all peoples, and that because of Jesus there is no difference between Jew and non-Jew. Paul had the strong personality needed for that daring challenge and the insight to see that faith in Jesus the fulfillment of their Old Testament hopes was now required for salvation. As we look at the personalities of Peter and Paul, we see that God called them to use their personalities to spread the Gospel, Peter to use his impetuous love to look after the flock, and Paul to use his training and his strength of character to ensure that the non-Jews would be welcomed into the church. It is a reminder to us that our talents and our weaknesses too can become God’s means of helping others, if we allow. Key point – if we allow. Folks, we don’t have to be perfect for God to work through us. God can and does work through us, faults and all, just as He did with Peter and Paul.
-Fr. Mike Lumpe