Most people love twins a lot; I do too, especially when they are identical. My first real encounter with twins began with my cousins: kelechi and Uche. They were highly identical as twins and it was rather a task trying to identify who was who among them. Apart from biological procreation, there are other ways through which two different individuals could be linked together as twins. It could be on account of similarity in character, aptitude, experience, interest and / or other co-joining factors. It is also very interesting to note that apart from the external fascinations associated with twins, they also disagree and even fight but they still remain together and achieve so much by their focus on their common goals.
Today being the 29th of June, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the apostles Peter and Paul. These two can be seen as “apostolic twins” based on some of the attributes they have in common notwithstanding their known individual differences. Our reflection today involves committed insights into these apostolic flag bearers in view of unveiling their strengths and weaknesses, their highs and lows as well as the transforming grace of God that brought them to lime lights and how these can become effectual in our own journey to God.
- PETER (C.1 BC)
He was born as Simon (meaning hearing) to Jonah (John 1:42) from Bethsaida in Galilee (John 1:44). His name was changed to Peter (rock) by our Lord Jesus Christ when he acknowledged him as the Son of God (Matt.16:17ff). He was married but nothing is mentioned about his family apart from the mention of his mother-in-law who was sick and was cured during the visit of our Lord Jesus Christ to his house in Capernaum (Mark 1:29-39). Simon was a fisherman by profession and he undertook the trade with his brother Andrew. He was called by our Lord while he was fishing and he (and his brother Andrew) left everything and followed Jesus Christ (Matt.4:18-19; Luke 5:10-11).
During the time of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ we are presented with a Peter who was highly unstable, emotional, easily moved to talk and highly prone to costly mistakes. Generally, we can dictate following:
- Simon the crude and sinful fisherman (Luke 5:8).
- Simon the mouthpiece of God and the Rock (Matt.16:18).
- Peter the obstacle (Satan) to the mission of Christ (Matt. 16:23).
- Peter the beholder of the glory of God at the transfiguration (Mark 9:2-5)
- Peter the fighter with a sword (John 18:10).
- The Peter who denied the Lord (Luke 22:55-60)
In fact, there were many aspects of Simon Peter before the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. After the resurrection, we see a Peter who was gradually transforming but not totally renewed.
- He was the first to enter the tomb after the Lord’s resurrection though John got there before him (John 20:6-8).
- He (with others) was afraid of the Jews after the resurrection and thus was hiding behind locked doors (John 20:19).
- He went back to the old trade of fishing with others and caught nothing the whole night (John 21:3).
Peter’s renewal came with the Pentecost when he moved from being merely a disciple to being a full-fledged apostle. From the day of Pentecost, we discover a totally transformed and renewed Peter.
- A Peter that preached boldly and was able to convert as much as three thousand people in a day (Acts 2. 14-41)
- A Peter who was able to cure a cripple by merely calling on the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:1-8).
- A Peter who received divine revelations from God (Acts 10:9-16).
- An administratively competent Peter who organized the replacement of Judas Iscariot with the election of Matthias. (Acts 1:15-26).
- A wise Peter whose input was outstanding during Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:7-11).
- An articulate Peter who wrote (or dictated through John Mark) two letters that were directed to the Jews both at home and abroad (1 Peter 5:13).
- A Peter who according to tradition suffered martyrdom and was crucified head down.
- PAUL (C.5 A.D)
St. Paul was born as Saul in Tarsus, the capital city of the Roman city of Cilicia, to a Jewish family belonging to the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5). He was a Pharisee as well as Roman Citizen (Acts 22:25-27). He was educated at the renowned school of Gamaliel (Act.22:3). There is very scanty information about his family. He became Paul after his conversion on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians (Acts. 9:3ff). Though he did not meet our Jesus Christ when he was on earth, he had a personal spiritual encounter with him and that brought about his conversion and transformation from being a persecutor of the Church to a promoter.
As Saul, Paul was a devout Pharisee who would stop at nothing in his ardent zeal for Judaism. When the early Christians began to preach the crucified Christ who died rose and ascended into heaven, Saul was bitter and swore to stamp out the heresy with the sword. The Saul before Paul was characterized by the following:
- Religious zeal without spiritual depth (Acts 8:1-3)
- Killing for God instead of saving for God ( Acts 9:1-2)
The conversion of Saul to Paul was more of a transforming drama. By his learning, under the school of Gamaliel, he thought he had seen the light. But when the light of Christ shone around him he became blind which was an indication that he had been living in darkness. After the event of his conversion which began with baptism, Saul became Paul. The Paul that emerged from the former Saul had the following attributes:
- Readiness to take risks for God (2 COR:25-28)
- Writing letters to teach, instruct, encourage and bless and not letters to imprison and kill. Of the 27 books of the New Testament, he wrote 13.
- Helping those who are faithless and not hindering those who have faith.
- Redirecting his knowledge and status as a Pharisee and Roman citizen to promote the gospel.
- Detachment from personal strength and connection to total submission to God’s power and direction: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil.4:13)
- Bringing the APOSTOLIC TWINS together
The reference we made at the beginning of this reflection about twins having some commonalities is aptly applicable to Peter and Paul who we refer to as apostolic twins here.
- Inglorious Past: They both were not always saints. Hence they had their bitter pasts. Actually, every saint had a past and every sinner has a future. Peter was so overwhelmed by our Lord’s righteousness which brought about the great catch that he exclaimed: “depart from me for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). And for Paul, our Lord asked him: “Why are you persecuting me?” (Act. 9:4)
- Unguarded Utterances and Actions: Peter was too spontaneous and emotional. Paul, on the other hand, was a perfectionist. These are extremes dispositions prone to misapplication of utterances and actions. That explains why Peter would attempt to stop our Lord’s passion and death and Paul, on the other hand, would obtain a letter to exterminate Christians in Damascus.
- Human Imprisonment and Divine Release: In the course of bearing witness to Jesus Christ Peter and Paul experienced arrest and imprisonment. However both experienced divine release from prison for them to continue their apostolic work (Acts 12:5-17; Acts 16:16-40). This tells us that there is no form of captivity that God cannot break for us.
- Divine Activity through Human Availability: God can only work with those who make themselves available for Him. Peter’s prompt response by leaving everything was an indication of availability and Paul’s readiness to follow the instructions he got on his way to Damascus was a deep expression of human availability for divine activity. “God’s hand is not too short to save nor His ear too hard to hear” (Isaiah 59:1). It all depend on our availability and His grace will be sufficient for us. (2 Cor. 12:9). By their availability, these apostles were used by God to accomplish great works which we enjoy till date.
- Martyrdom: From tradition, we learnt that the two apostles died as martyrs in the city of Rome. Peter is said to have been crucified with his head down while Paul was beheaded (outside the walls). It is hard not to imagine that they would end up as martyrs given the vigour and rigour they gave to their mission.
As we celebrate these awesome princes of the Church, let us be attentive to those attributes that constituted the turning points in their lives. We may have our weaknesses but they should not weaken us. We may have our backgrounds but they have no right to keep our backs on the ground. Do have an awesome celebration.