Romans 6.12-end; Matthew 10.40-end
28th June 2020
Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of St Peter and St Paul. I have often wondered what these two towering figures of the early Church would have thought about sharing a festival day. Given their importance, would they have resented being yoked together in this way?
Certainly, there were things about each man which the other might have envied. Peter might have wished for Paul's eloquence, his expertly trained legal mind, his status as a Roman citizen and his indefatigable energy. And Paul in his turn would surely have given much to have shared the three years of Jesus's ministry on earth as Peter did, to have been Jesus's close companion and friend and one of the first to meet him after he rose from the dead.
But the things that Peter and Paul had in common were much more significant than the things which divided them. Both were deeply complex and flawed human beings with a shameful past. Peter, having promised to follow Jesus even to death, betrayed him three times in a single night. Paul was a zealous persecutor of Jesus's disciples and masterminded the murder of Stephen, the first recorded Christian martyr. And yet both saw their lives transformed by the wonderful forgiveness and love of God. By the sea of Galilee, the risen Jesus gently wiped out Peter's three betrayals with a question repeated three times, 'Peter, do you love me?' and a commission, ‘Feed my sheep'. For Paul it was more dramatic - literally stopped in his tracks and blinded by a vision of Christ, his eyes were opened through the ministry of a brave disciple, Ananias.
It was this experience of being loved and forgiven which motivated both Peter and Paul in their mission to bring the whole world to faith in Christ. It's the golden thread which runs through Paul's writings, as we see in today's reading from his letter to the Romans: ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord'. It is the reason we see Peter supporting Paul at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts Chapter 15, urging that Gentile believers should not be burdened with the requirements of the Jewish law. In a moving speech, Peter argues that ‘God who knows the human heart, in cleansing their hearts has made no distinction between them and us. We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.'
So I think that, far from being jealous of one another, Peter and Paul would rejoice to share a feast day and would want to speak to us with one voice, persuading us to accept the grace of God and to allow our lives to be transformed as theirs were.
Traditionally, this is the weekend when ordinations take place, though this year, of course, they have had to be deferred. For Fr Richard Rohr, the well-known Franciscan spiritual writer and activist, this is the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination. Reflecting on those fifty years, he writes ‘God always uses unworthy instruments so that we can never think that it is we who are accomplishing his work. The older I get, the more I think ‘God, you were so patient with me! I didn't do it right and you still did it right. You still used me.'
Fr Richard's prayer reflects Peter and Paul's experience, and, I hope, our own too. So I pray that this week we may rejoice in God's generous love for us in Christ, and that we may be given strength through the Holy Spirit to share that love with others. Amen.