Today my Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul whom we consider to be very important to the spread of Christianity in the world and examples of what it means to be followers of Christ. The comforting thing for me is that both of these men had rather significant faults and yet God chose them for significant roles and ministries. Peter was the one who hid in the crowd and denied that he even knew Jesus during the events of his arrest and trial. Paul, a Roman citizen, was a major figure in the persecution of Christians in the early days of Christianity. Considering those behaviors, I am led to reflect on the effects of fear and ignorance. Peter clearly loved and followed Jesus throughout the three years of public ministry. Who of us, had we been a follower of the person some considered to be the Messiah, the one to restore the earthly kingdom of David (not yet recognized as divine), would have been willing to acknowledge him in a situation that would mean certain death for us? That was Peter’s fear. And Paul, an upstanding Roman citizen, was acting in the manner of the occupying nation in Israel when he was persecuting those who had become disciples of Jesus. He understood this as his duty and was ignorant of the true identity of Jesus until his conversion experience on the road to Damascus.
Considering Peter in today’s gospel (MT 16:13-19), we remember another side of him. He was the only one who had something to say when Jesus asked the gathered disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” His response of “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” was the proclamation of a man who was willing to spontaneously jump out of a boat into the water to get to Jesus (more than once!) for love of him, the one who proclaimed that love in a threefold answer to the question, “Peter, do you love me?” This same Peter did, in fact, die for his faith in Christ – crucified upside down – after years of leadership in the communities of faith. Paul, converted in a blaze of light on that fateful journey to Damascus, never looked back and became “the Apostle to the Gentiles” credited with more writing and more preaching than anyone else in the spread of Christianity in the known world.
I think of the dictum that “there’s a little bad in the best of us and a little good in the worst of us” as I ponder these two giants. Paul doesn’t always get high marks from women and Peter was rather impulsive but we need to consider the culture of the times and the personalities of these saints when judging them. What stands out is their zeal and the love that impelled them forward and once they woke up to their mission nothing ever stood in the way of their fidelity and courage. They certainly lived out – in word and action – their answer to the question Jesus put to Peter in the beginning. So today I ask myself, as Jesus the Christ asks me: Lois, who do YOU say that I am?