Fallible Giants: Peter and Paul – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Ezekiel 34:11-16
II Timothy 4:1-9
John 21:15-19

We stand today in the presence of two of the giants of our faith: the Apostles Peter and Paul.  No one has had a more profound influence on the Christian faith and on the Church than these two men.  Both of them have their own feast – Peter on January 18 for his confession of Jesus as the Messiah and Paul on January 25 for his conversion – but they are commemorated together on this day, June 29, because of the Church’s tradition that they both died as martyrs in Rome during the persecution under Nero in the year 64.  Today we observe them as martyrs for the faith.

They are very different figures: Peter was a simple man, not highly educated and possibly illiterate, a fisherman from Galilee.  Paul was an extremely well-educated, cosmopolitan Jew who was also a Roman citizen.  He was from a notable family line and had received an excellent education.  The two men didn’t always agree.  Peter was the chief ambassador to Jewish believers, while Paul focused his efforts on winning Gentiles to the faith.  Peter was centered in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, while Paul’s missions extended throughout Asia Minor and even to Rome.  One of their most heated conflicts was around the question of whether Gentile believers ought to comply with Jewish law.  Yet, their commitment to Christ and to the proclamation of the Gospel enabled them to overcome their differences.  Both were zealous to the end.  The tradition holds that Peter was crucified, upside-down, and that Paul, because he was a Roman citizen, was beheaded rather than crucified.

What strikes me most about the two of them is that, despite being “giants of the faith” whose lives and witness were crucial to the early Church’s growth and development, they were both imperfect men, at times fallible and weak.

Peter stands out for his courage and zeal – see him drawing a sword to defend Jesus in Gethsemane’s garden – and yet we know that at times he was afraid.  One day he boldly proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah; but the next he denies that he even knows the man.  Like the rest of the Twelve, he often doesn’t “get it,” and, like them, he abandons Jesus at the hour of his death.  He becomes a bold and fearless witness to the Gospel after Pentecost – but always carried with him the memory of his three-fold denial.

Paul was educated, wise and insightful, a brilliant apologist for the faith and a powerful preacher, yet he could never escape the fact that he was one of the Church’s earliest persecutors.  Both men were giants of the faith who had significant blemishes on their records.

That both men were powerful at times and vulnerable and weak at other times, I take as a great consolation for us.  We, too, have been zealous believers, perhaps even fearless, at times – and at other times full of weakness, doubt and fear.  We have been at times confident and strong in our calling, and at other times wavering and uncertain.  We know what it is to act faithfully, and we know what it is to fail to rise up to our calling.

The wonder is that God has chosen us and continues to use us as agents for God’s work in the world, the bringing in of the Kingdom of God.  These charismatic figures inspire us by their example and their willingness to suffer for the sake of Christ.  They challenge us to take up the mission of God day by day, continually renewing our commitment to Christ and fanning into flames our zeal for the Good News.  Today is another day to push forward, to renew the promises we have made, to recommit ourselves to the life and work of a disciple, and to lean wholly on the power of God’s Spirit, who strengthens us for the battle.  Humbly but courageously, we press on.

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