Today is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the two titans of the Church. I say titans, not through their own merits, but by responding to their call to serve God in a way that helped the Good News spread throughout the world in their day and, in fact, they continue this work still today. Both men were capable of the most profound, eloquent, and beautiful witness to Christ, and yet despite this, they were flawed men. We know this because we hear from them, or about them, nearly every week in readings. Scripture, in many ways, lays them bare.
However, I believe that these two men are icons of hope. Hope to you and me, hope that manifests itself in the mercy, compassion and love of God.
Peter seemed to spend half his time getting it right and the other half getting it gloriously wrong, summed up perfectly by todays Gospel. What insight and courage it must have taken to utter the words, “You are the Christ”! How his heart must have been pounding, compelled to speak the words, words that he perhaps didn’t understand. Surely, there must have been a part of him that was worried that he’d misunderstood and was wide of the mark, preparing himself for verbal retribution. But, on this occasion his insight was from a higher power, chosen to receive it to enable him to do the work that was set for him. His heart must have leapt when Jesus confirmed his words and gifted him His Church.
And yet, shortly after this Peter is rebuked as Satan for trying to tempt Jesus, which is what it amounted to. Of course, there are many other examples of Peter’s failings, not least of which is the threefold denial of Christ at the start of His Passion. But I think the picture of Peter that we are left with is of a man, a simple fisherman, who had all the human traits that we understand, because we have them, and yet he was given the gift of faith in its fullness. And it is this combination of human frailty interspersed with God given insight that, I believe, makes Peter an icon of hope.
Paul is a slightly different proposition. Peter is sometimes viewed as ‘fiery’, but Paul makes him look tame. Here we have a man who committed heinous crimes against the early followers of Christ. Paul had blood on his hands. Throughout Scripture, Paul comes across as an opinionated, argumentative man who could be difficult to get on with, even taking Peter to task when he thought that Peter was setting the wrong example.
But…what utter beauty Paul was capable of. His Hymn of love in 1 Corinthians is poetry that exceeds all poetry and his faith in Christ exceeds all faith. Why do I say that? Because he had an absolute belief that, despite his terrible sins, he would receive God’s forgiveness. This is evident on many occasions, including today’s reading from his second letter to Timothy; “I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me…”.
Paul was certain of God’s mercy, no doubt fuelled by his encounter with the Glorified Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul also, by virtue in a large part to his Damascene encounter, is an icon of hope.
I’m talking about icons of hope, but what do I mean by that? It just struck me that often, we can look at people who are just too perfect to find inspiration in because we know that we can’t aspire to be as good as they are (for ‘we’, read ‘I’). It could be an artist, a musician, a frustratingly brilliant work colleague or competitor, a ‘holy’ person. But not so with Peter and Paul. For all their ‘titan’ status, they are eminently inspiring for two reasons. Firstly, because their ‘oh so human’ failings are on display for all to see, failings that we relate to because we too fail. But secondly, because despite this, they have allowed God to work in their lives. They have opened themselves up to God’s will for them, and in so doing, have given witness to God’s compassion, his understanding of human nature, his mercy, and, most of all, his love for his people.
Yes, Peter and Paul are titans, but we too can be titans, despite our past, present, and future failings, despite our unworthiness, if we follow their inspiration. Because we too can open ourselves to God’s will for us. We too can give witness to his mercy, compassion, and love for all people. And, believe it or not, we too can inspire others by allowing God to work through us, just as Peter and Paul did. This is the enduring legacy of Saints Peter and Paul.
God Bless you all…Deacon Anthony