Matthew 16:13-19, Feast of Sts Peter and Paul, Apostles
A big difference between Saint Peter and Saint Paul was their idea of “mission,” or more technically, their “missiology.” Peter thought that the mission Jesus entrusted to them was meant only for Israel, for the Jews. Now that the promised Messiah had come, the Jews must gradually shift from obeying the letter of the law of Moses to obeying it in the spirit of the Messiah’s teaching. So, for Peter, if you wished to follow Jesus, you must continue being a devout Jew. But this time, you obey the Law in the compassionate spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. Not bad, if you ask me; to reform Judaism from within. If Gentiles wanted to be part of the followers of Jesus, then they must obey Jewish laws, too: dietary laws, circumcision, temple sacrifice, etc. But this time, in the spirit of the Messiah’s words and way of life. Not bad at all.
But then, Jesus called Paul to be an apostle, too. Unlike Peter, though, Paul felt that Jesus was the Messiah for all people, not just Jews. Paul thought that Jesus meant his message to break beyond Israel and even beyond Mosaic Law! No more “Gentile or Jew, servant or free, woman or man!” Quite bizarre for someone who was a rabid Judaizer once-upon-a-time: pro-Jew, aristocrat, anti-women! So, because the Messiah meant to save all, Gentile converts need not become “Jews” and observe dietary laws, or be circumcised, or offer temple sacrifice, etc.
The debates that must have erupted between Peter and Paul! One of their biggest fights is called “the Antioch Incident,” recorded in Galatians. I won’t bore you with the details now. But the whole point I’m making is that, here we have two apostles very, very devoted to the same man, Jesus. But they had such a different, even opposing, understanding of what it meant to “follow Christ.” You could almost hear Peter think: “I know what Jesus wants. I was his friend!” And you could almost hear Paul think, “I may be an upstart, but of all people, I, an ex-Pharisee, I know what Jesus meant to break beyond Israel and the Law!” And you know, both of them would be right; except that they needed to understand one more very important reality: they were meant for each other in the same mission of spreading the Good News.
No matter how close to Christ religious leaders presume they are—priests, superiors, bishops, popes, etc.—still, they cannot presume to know all the answers about the Lord’s will. There will always be voices that differ. To them must they listen, because through them, the Messiah also speaks. Jesus didn’t send Paul to oppose Peter, but rather to help the guy open more doors and windows, the way Jesus always wanted things to be. Paul was to be Peter’s partner… in mission and in discernment. If a Peter, best friend of the Messiah, “the Rock!”, was still sent a Paul who differed in his understanding of Messiah, none of us today can presume to be greater than Peter or Paul, can’t we? We are sent other voices, including voices that differ, so we can better answer Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” and to answer it in as inclusive and as wide an understanding as Jesus meant his arms, to embrace not just his own, but to embrace all.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us. Amen.
*image from the Internet