Peter & Paul
Monday, June 30, 2008 -- Week of Proper 8
Sts. Peter & Paul, Apostles (tr. from June 29)
Today's Reading for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer)
EITHER Monday of Proper 8 (p. 973)
Psalms 118 (morning) 145 (evening) (p. 973)
OR SS. Peter & Paul (p. 998)
Morning: Psalm 66, Ezekiel 2:1-7, Acts 11:1-18
Evening: 97, 138; Isaiah 49:1-6; Galatians 2:1-9
I read the lections for SS. Peter & Paul
Theirs was a turbulent friendship. Peter and Paul seem to be at odds with one another at some moments of early mission of the church. Paul says he called Peter a hypocrite to his face when Peter failed, in Paul's eyes, to live up to the logical conclusion of his own revelation.
Peter had opened the door for the ministry among the Gentiles. His vision of a sheet descending from heaven with unclean animals upon it, and a voice telling him to "kill and eat," became the revelation that opened his eyes to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the household of the uncircumcised Roman Centurion Cornelius. Peter realized the vision wasn't about food, but about people. "You shall not call unclean what God has made clean." So Peter baptized the first Gentiles. (Acts 10) Peter got called to task about it, and had to defend his actions before a council of the early church. (Acts 11) He told of what he had seen: "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" The opponents were silenced.
If Peter opened the door for ministry among the Gentiles, Paul kicked it down. Paul traveled the Roman world preaching primarily to Gentile Christians who had been drawn to Jewish faith, presumably because of its high ethic and single God. Though Paul met with regular resistance from the predominately Jewish-Christian church, he fiercely defended his gospel that circumcision is nothing, but grace through faith is everything.
The reading from Galatians is Paul's description of his dramatic meeting with the church's Jerusalem leaders. It must have been a hot session. The presence of Titus among them is a test case. Titus is Paul's associate, and he is not circumcised. Must he be circumcised in order to share ministry with them? Among those present were some Paul calls "false believers" who gave unflattering reports of Paul's ministry. But the meeting concludes well for Paul. He is given the right hand of fellowship and sent to be the apostle to the Gentiles. He differentiates his mission from Peter's, who he says "had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised." One senses some potential for conflict there.
The fight seemed to continue in Antioch. When Peter visited there, Paul chastised Peter. It seems that Peter had backed away from his earlier insight. He had been dining with Gentiles, but following a visit from James, presumably the brother of our Lord who acted as the leader of the Jerusalem church, Peter "drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction." Paul challenged Peter for caving in to the traditionalists and not standing up for the truth he knew.
It seems interesting that the contemporary church finds itself in a similar conflict. Rather than circumcision, the issue is sexual orientation. Must gay people become straight or celebate in order to be fully included? The church is conflicted and divided. Pressure from the Anglican Communion toward the Episcopal Church feels a lot like what James' visit to Antioch must have felt like to Paul's congregation. Peter returned to kosher. Paul held the line for full inclusion. They found themselves on opposite sides of the defining conflict of that generation of Christians.
They both stood up to challenge and great conflict. Tradition links them together in this feast day in honor of the tradition that they both died in Rome as martyrs during the persecution of Nero in 64. Legend says that Peter was crucified as was Jesus, although upside down. According to the story, Peter asked to be hanged upside down because he was not worthy to die as the Lord had. His was the death of a rebel or a criminal. Paul received the courtesy of execution as a Roman citizen, and was beheaded by the sword, according to the tradition.
They are forever linked by this shared feast day. Icons often show them in an embrace or cheek-to-cheek. Theirs is a comforting image of reconciliation between Christians who find themselves on opposite sides of an important conflict. That is an image the church needs to embrace in our own generation.
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Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.
Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
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