In the first, from Acts, St. Peter is in prison under unusually heavy guard and secured by chains when he is miraculously freed from his chains and led out to freedom. And in his second letter to Timothy, Paul reflects on his long life of service to the early churches as “being poured out like a libation.” He has “fought the good fight” and he has “kept the faith” and he now looks forward to the “crown” that awaits him with the Lord.
Both readings speak of the apostles being rescued by the Lord. Both, too, are the founders of the early church in Rome due primarily to the reality of their experiencing themselves as one with Christ by their service of others. Indeed Christ is the very center and purpose of their lives devoted to bringing the gospel to the world.
The Christ who rescues them is the same Christ whom they followed as a disciple. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus himself is approaching his own cruel death as he nears Jerusalem and he asked his friends/companions/disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Peter’s answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” is praised by Jesus not only as the “correct” answer, but that the answer itself comes to Peter as God’s own revelation. Jesus promises that Peter will be the rock on which Jesus’ church will be built.
As we consider the character of both these early founders of our church we are impressed by the fact that they as individual people they are not the source of the goodness that flowed from and through them; that strength and goodness was God’s gift they would experience throughout the course of their magnificent service to others. Both had their huge flaws: Peter was impetuous, strong-willed, and often obtuse to the message that Jesus was trying to give him; Paul started off as a persecutor of the church. Seemingly not a very auspicious beginning for them!
Yet, each of them was open to being “rescued” by Jesus and each recognized that he was privileged to work side-by-side with Christ. They both, tradition tells us, were martyrs for Christ and as such models for our own privileged witnessing as members of the Risen Body of Christ.
What do their lives say to us, today? That we, too, are called by Jesus into service and that our service, however small and meager it appears to us, is the gift of God as well as an ongoing invitation to us to follow Jesus as his disciples today in our difficult circumstances. Just like Peter and Paul, we are witnesses for Christ to those we come in contact with. Our “witnessing” probably will not lead to our cruel martyrdom as Peter and Paul’s (and Jesus’), but we too can “pour ourselves out” as Jesus (and Peter and Paul) did. We can, like them “fight the good fight” and, most importantly, “keep the faith.”
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