Wednesday 28 June 2023

Two different men, one same Faith

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of the two great pillars of the church, Peter and Paul. They were very different men from very different backgrounds. Peter was a fisherman from rural Galilee. Paul was a learned Pharisee from the university city of Tarsus. Peter’s first language was Aramaic; Paul’s first language was Greek. Peter knew Jesus from the time of his baptism and was with Jesus until the time of the Lord’s passion and death; Paul only ever met the risen Lord, in that famous incident, his conversion, on the road to Damascus.

For all their differences, they had that which is most important in common. Both of these men found themselves at odds with the Lord. Jesus called Peter “satan”, an obstacle in his path, when the Apostle tried to persuade the Lord away from his cross and passion — and then Peter would go on to deny his Master publicly three times. Paul had a hand in the death of the first Christian martyr, St Stephen, and violently persecuted Christ’s followers, and in doing that persecuted Christ himself.

And yet, in each case, it was Jesus who had the last word. Their resistance to the Lord did not prevent him from working powerfully through them. Peter was chosen to be the leader of the twelve, the rock on which Jesus would build his church. Paul was chosen to be the great apostle to the Gentiles, to take the faith out beyond Israel to the whole world. 

They were very different people and the Lord worked through each of them in different ways. But they were united in one faith and in love for the Lord and for the little community of those who followed the Lord. They were certainly united in death: a very early tradition recalls that both were executed in Rome during the Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians after the great fire of Rome.

The feast of Saints Peter and Paul reminds us that the way the Lord works through us is unique to each one of us. We each have our part in the great story of salvation, and each have our place in the great family of God which is the Church. The feast also reassures us that our many resistances to the Lord will not be a hindrance to his working through us. Peter, who denied the Lord, and Paul, who persecuted the Lord, would become his greatest servants and Apostles, and the very foundation of the Church. Our failings, even our greatest failings, do not define who we are. St Paul would go on to say, ‘the Lord’s grace toward me has not been in vain’. The Lord’s grace towards us in our weakness and frailty and our waywardness will never be in vain if we continue to open ourselves to the workings of that grace and the path that the Lord has prepared for us. May St Peter and St Paul pray for us, and for God’s church, as we each play our part in the preaching of the Gospel, the growth of the flock of Christ, and the building up of the kingdom.

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