June 29th was the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul in the western Christian church calendar. Some of you are slapping your foreheads and saying, “Oh no, I forgot.” If you are part of the Eastern Orthodox Church, in which case you are on the Julian calendar, you will observe this feast day next week, so you’re good.
Peter was the second of Jesus’ original twelve apostles, his brother Andrew being the first. Originally his name was Simon, but Jesus called him Peter, which meant rock, because Jesus said Peter was the rock upon which the church would be built. Peter was the one who denied that he knew Jesus when Jesus was on trial for his life. Jesus left his legacy in the hands of the guy who denied knowing him when it was dangerous to know him.
Just in case you wonder if you’re “good enough” to do something. Pull up your socks. You are good enough.
Now Saul (Paul) was a good Pharisee and opposed this sect following Jesus, seeing Jesus as another false messiah. Saul was on his way to Damascus intending to arrest believers, and you know what happened, don’t you?
Okay, he was blinded by a bright light and fell down in the road, and God asked him, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul, blind and on his posterior in the dust, did not have an answer to this question. God told him to get up and keep going to Damascus, where he would receive further instructions. Once in Damascus Saul sat for three days, blind and bewildered, waiting for God’s next message. Meanwhile, the Lord spoke to a man named Ananias, a leader of believers in Damascus, and told him to go see Saul. Ananias replied, “Lord, I’ve heard of this Saul. He is bad news for us!” The Lord said, “… he is an instrument I have chosen to bring my name before the Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel …” *
So, Ananias said, “Right, Lord, you’re the Lord.”
Long story short, Ananias laid hands on Saul, the scales fell from Saul’s eyes, he was baptized, renamed Paul, and began preaching the gospel. He traveled over much of the Roman Empire, preaching the gospel for the rest of his life, and making tents, which was his profession. He did not want to be a financial burden on anyone. He was the only apostle who seemed to advise, “Don’t quit your day job.”
Peter and Paul disagreed on who could become a follower of Jesus. Peter believed that only people who were Jewish could be initiated into the teachings of Jesus, and if someone who was a Gentile wanted to follow Jesus, they had to convert to Judaism, which was not easy. There were requirements regarding the laws of Moses, but one requirement was that men be circumcised, which was a sign of the Hebrews’ covenant with God. Paul, on the other hand, believed he had been called to preach to the Gentiles, and that Gentiles should be welcomed as believers in Jesus without being circumcised. There was a lot of heated discussion over circumcision.
You women reading this are rolling your eyes, and saying, “Men! Honestly!” Yeah. Things like this send women right out of the church, not to mention the various atrocities committed over the centuries and the various atrocities being committed right now in the name of Jesus, backed up by Bible verses pulled out of context to prove male arguments for controlling women and other human beings. Well, sisters, we “have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.” Bookmark that. Back to the patristic narrative.
Peter loosened up a little over time and did allow Gentiles to be baptized, intact. I don’t know about you, but to me it is impressive that a founder of the Christian church would change one of his core tenets in the direction of acceptance and that two leaders with divergent opinions were able to disagree with one another and still communicate.
Peter and Paul founded the church in Rome, and they both lived and taught there. Peter is called the first Bishop of Rome. Christianity was illegal at that time, and they were both executed in Rome, around 66 A.D., during the reign of Nero.
Three centuries later the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, so Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Everyone was marched down to the river and baptized.
A rare moment of unity in the Christian church. I jest. I’ll bet there was plenty of arguing going on. It has never stopped.
*Acts 9:15, New Oxford Annotated Bible