Commemoration of Saint Peter and Saint Paul
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us— we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those leaders contributed nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. — Galatians 2:1-9
Paul is writing, what to an EfM group member would clearly be a spiritual autobiography, a story of how he came to be where he was in a spiritual sense and the people who had an influence, of sorts, in his ministry. He was establishing his bona fides, a resume, so to speak, of his religious activities throughout his life with particular emphasis on his post-conversion career change from persecutor to proponent. In this autobiography he speaks of his two journeys to Jerusalem and meeting with the leaders of the church. Funny, it always seemed like Paul should have been off to Jerusalem as soon after being healed of his blindness caused by the vision on the Damascus road but he waited three years before going to see Peter and the others for a brief visit and then went to foreign parts for another fourteen before returning for this visit to Jerusalem. The two meetings on Peter’s turf were also accompanied by one meeting with Peter in Paul’s territory. The relationship was sometimes rocky but eventually they achieved a peace and a balance.
Peter and Paul are like the twin columns that support a great arch. Neither can be weaker than the other and each must bear equal weight and upon them, the weight of the doorway to the church and its teachings rests. They were opposites in many ways: Paul was an educated Pharisee, Peter an illiterate fisherman; Peter was a disciple of Jesus while he was in his earthly mission but Paul never met Jesus in the flesh but only in a vision. Paul had a very real call to the gentiles while Peter was still convinced that the road to Jesus lay through being Jewish. They were very different people with different missions but had one thing in common: great faith in this Jesus of Nazareth who turned both of their lives upside down and inside out.
Christianity as a religion was built by both Peter and Paul as they taught the lessons of the living Jesus and the experience of the risen Christ. Peter quite often features in our lessons from the gospel, and many of the lessons we read in the epistles are from the words of Paul. It’s hard to think of the church without them being in there somewhere. The churches they planted and fostered first around the Sea of Galilee and then around the Mediterranean have grown into a network that spans the entire globe.
I think about strange things when I’m out for my morning walk. Now and again though, something pops up and that happened while I was thinking about Peter and Paul. There was a jingle from an old 1970s candy commercial, “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t/ Almond Joy’s got nuts, Mounds don’t.” What does that have to do with serious theological contemplation? Nothing, really, except the thought that but for that one ingredient, the two candies are just the same — chocolate and coconut. Doing some digging, I discovered that Peter and Paul both may well have eaten coconut and almonds but I am pretty sure they didn’t have chocolate. Oh, and the name of the candy maker was Peter Paul Halajian.
Christianity is something like Mr. Halajian’s company. His candies use basically the same ingredients but put together in different proportions and with slight changes in one or more of those ingredients which produce a different kind of candy. That’s how Christianity works, and that’s how Peter and Paul seemed to see their various missions to spread the word of Jesus. Over the centuries various changes in the basic recipe took place. Modern Christianity takes the basic message and looks at it from different viewpoints and with slightly different doctrines to make denominations and churches that are unique and yet similar.
Like an opening line from one of Shakespeare’s plays, Peter and Paul represent “Two houses, both alike in dignity*” despite their differences and their occasional disagreements. They both tried their best to spread the word about a Galilean peasant preacher/teacher/messiah who was the Son of God. I’d say they were remarkably successful in those ventures.
And I suddenly have a craving for a candy bar.
*Romeo & Juliet