When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’
How is it possible to give due honour to two such important figures in the history of Christianity in just a few words? Peter, the rock upon which the Church of Christ has been built, and Paul, the zealous Pharisee and persecutor of early Christians who became the first great apostle to the Gentiles. These two men achieved so much in such a short space of time. How is it possible to honour all of that in just a few words?
If they were able to answer my question, I am very confident that they would be horrified. They would see no need for honour and praise to be poured on them. The only one to be honoured and praised in their eyes was, and is, Jesus himself. Like many others who have lived since, they would say, I am sure, we were just obeying orders; we were just doing what we were asked to do … by the Son of God.
Peter and Paul are honoured by the Church, of course. Indeed, it is at this time of the year that most ordinations into the diaconate and the priesthood take place. Those who have heard and responded to God’s call in their lives are set aside to do that which he has asked of them: to love and serve the communities in which they are set, to feed and strengthen the faithful, to nurture and build communities of faith. When we look back at the lives of Peter and Paul, it is easy to see why the day on which we recall their martyrdom is considered to be so important. This day gives us a moment each year in which we can measure our own response to God’s call against the yardstick of these two great figures.
The lives of Peter and Paul were very different, just as their respective ministries were different. Again, they provide us with a model to emulate. We are all different, we are all individuals, and yet we were all created in the image of God. Our individuality, our uniqueness, is a source of strength in that it provides a magnificent kaleidoscope of skill and talent with which to further God’s mission in this world. Like Peter and Paul, we do not easily see ourselves as emissaries for Christ, but that is our calling. No matter who we are, what our social situation may be or how unworthy we may consider ourselves to be, God sees into our hearts and God knows the role we can fulfil in his name.
Let us pray that our hearts and minds might be ready for God’s call and that, like Peter and Paul, we might set self aside and tread the path that has been laid for us.