Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
Theme of the week: Though very different individuals, Peter and Paul both showed great humility as they serve the Lord fervently. Peter was given the authority of the Heavenly King that persists till today.
In the 2000-year history of our Church, apart from Christ Himself, perhaps no other humans occupied more prominent positions than Peter and Paul. These two early church fathers were both great archetypes of discipleship.
Peter came from what we would term today as a blue-collar upbringing. Before his calling by our Lord, Peter worked as a fisherman. Not particularly intellectual, Peter nevertheless wrote two books of the New Testament, and played a key role in providing leadership and governance to the early Church. Paul, on the other hand, came from a white-collar background and has studied under the great theologian Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). With supreme intellect, Paul was responsible for thirteen of the New testament books. Paul was such a supreme intellect that in 2 Pet 3:15-16, Peter himself acknowledged that Paul’s writings were so profound that they can be hard to understand. In this way, Peter and Paul complemented each other perfectly. While Peter provided leadership and governance, Paul eloquently conveyed many of the teachings of the early Church. In this way, we may regard Peter as the pre-cursor to today’s Holy See; and Paul the pre-cursor to the Magisterium. Another important difference between these men are in their ministries – whereas Peter was called to administer to the believers (in his times the Jews), Paul was called to administer to the yet-to-be-converted (in his times the Gentiles) (Gal 2:7-8).
Such is the mysterious ways of God’s call. Two different individuals with very different background, each called to different yet complementary missions to build the kingdom of God. Different they may be, they shared a number of important similarities. Each was called by Christ (Peter in Lk 5:1-8 and Paul in Acts 9:3-6) and became devoted disciples. In humility, each declared himself an unworthy sinner (Peter in Lk 5:8 and Paul in 1 Tim 1:15) and served the Lord fervently. Their devotion to the faith brought them much sufferings – a price paid by many who serve the Lord throughout history. Both Peter and Paul were martyred.
As we live our baptismal call to serve the Lord as Peter and Paul did, sometimes, almost inevitably, sufferings befall upon us. In the First Reading, Peter was imprisoned by King Harod and faced certain death. The angel of the Lord came upon Peter and freed him from his imprisonment. In the Second Readings, Paul was similarly imprisoned. He recalled how the Lord “rescued [him] from every evil attack and save [him] for his heavenly kingdom” (verse 18). In our faith lives, just like Peter and Paul, we too often faced persecution. Let us follow the examples of Peter and Paul, not just in service, but also in the confidence that the Lord “will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).
The Gospel goes on to explain a significant aspect of Peter’s leadership that even Paul did not enjoy – that Peter was bestowed a heavenly authority by Jesus. Peter was given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” such that “whatever [he] binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever [he] looses on earth will be loosed in heaven” (verse 19). Scripture scholars have noted that the language used here is very similar to that used in Isa 22:22 where Eliakim was delegated with the authority of his earthly king. In a parallel context, in the Gospel, Peter was delegated with the authority of the Heavenly King. What’s more, Jesus declared him as “Peter” in the passage (verse 18). In line with a tradition dating back to the Old Testament, when God gives a person a new name – for example, Abram (Abraham) and Jacob (Israel) – God is assigning the person a special role in salvation history. “Peter” literally means “rock”, a very unusual name for a person of that time. The significance of this unusual name is that Peter was to be the rock upon which Jesus built his Church (verse 18). Through the two thousand years that have since passed, that authority vested in Peter has been passed down the generations through an unbroken chain of Popes. That is why we regard the Pope as the successor of St Peter. With the authority of heaven vested in him, the Holy Father remains the rock upon which we continue to build our Church today.
Let us pray for the strengths of Saints Peter and Paul as we continue to build our Church.