Today Christians everywhere are celebrating two of the “founding fathers” of Christianity: Saints Peter and Paul. It’s interesting to note that, being the “stars” of the historical and Scriptural story, they don’t have a feast day of their own, but have to share the spotlight! It isn’t as if they came on the scene together. Paul never met Jesus “in the flesh,” while Peter was one of the original twelve followers of Christ. We know Peter as much for his weaknesses as for his strengths while Paul appears (after his cinematic first appearance on the scriptural stage) to be a staunch follower of Christ throughout.
It’s clear from the lectionary readings that St. Paul never wavered in his faith after his conversion. His testimony (2 TM 4: 6-8. 17-18) is stirring and ultimately gives the credit for everything to Christ who has rescued him from his former life of persecuting Christians. This morning, however, I see just a tinge of the former ranking officer as he says, “I have competed well; I have finished the race…the crown of righteousness awaits me…” (I smile at that, knowing that we never outgrow ourselves totally in our conversions!)
Peter gets the prize today in my estimation, however (if we are to award a prize…). We have a story from the Acts of the Apostles (12: 1-11), a great narration of Peter’s rescue from prison by an angel. More important for us, I think, is the gospel passage from Matthew (16: 13-19), a moment when Jesus asked the disciples about what people were saying about his identity. They reported hearing that he might be a prophet or maybe even the return of John the Baptist. Then comes the question of the day – or of a lifetime: “But who do you say that I am?” We need to remember that this was before the Crucifixion and the Resurrection…somewhere in their travels with this amazing preacher, but not the Christ that we now know. It was Peter who spoke up that day with a faith that carried him through several failures as well as some glorious successes. “You are the Christ, Son of the living God.” I believe that the faith which prompted that response from Peter was grounded in his great love for Jesus, a love that did not necessarily mean perfection in his living, but rather in a willingness to never stop trying.
We can learn a lot from today: the amazing zeal and accomplishment of Paul coupled with the love and steadfastness of Peter can be a source of inspiration and a way to accept our personal manner of Christian living. Whether we have an easy walk or a stone-littered path with Jesus, we can celebrate those models who first encountered Jesus the Christ and who remain for us today.