Today we gather – two worship communities but still one family in Christ – to celebrate our Patron Saints, Peter and Paul.
As the “family” that was the first century Christian church took shape, it would be hard to find two more radically different personalities than Peter and Paul. Tradition says that both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome in 64 AD. They shared a passion for Jesus, but Paul and Peter were almost total opposites. And this is in more ways than looks — if iconography gives us any clue, Peter is tall, stout and bushy-haired and Paul is small, thin and balding.
Peter, a small town fisherman with no friends in high places, and no education to speak of was “blue collar” all the way. Often slow to comprehend, he was impetuous and emotional. Yet Peter was also a natural born leader. In every list of the disciples we have, Peter is always named first. From the outset he is their spokesman. Peter followed Jesus with his whole heart, but not always with his whole brain.
Paul was “white collar plus” – middle management and on the rise. Yes, he had a trade, a marketable skill as an artisan leather worker who made tents. But that was not his identity. Paul was a Roman citizen, an urban sophisticate and a scholar! Paul followed the Law with his whole being until that unexpected experience with the risen Christ on the Damascus Road. Then his zeal for the Law was transformed into an unshakeable zeal for Jesus the Christ, an evangelist to the Gentiles, responsible for the expanding the Christian faith to the ends of the Roman Empire.
It is one of the greatest ironies of church history that Peter, the unschooled, semi-observant fisherman became the apostle who blended Torah-obedient Jews into a new life of faith in Jesus, while the former “Torah-terrorist”, Saul, became the apostle who let the Law go in order to make the Lord Jesus Christ available to all the world, without restrictions.
The two most influential leaders of the first century church — and for the next twenty-centuries — were the “Rock,” Cephas (Peter), and the rock-thrower, Saul/Paul the Pharisee persecutor.
Last week I of spoke of Jesus as the “life giver” and “life changer” – this week we celebrate the lives of two men who bear witness to the power of Jesus to bring about total transformation. This power is available still, today, for all who seek and accept the touch of Christ.