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Tuesday 29 June 2021: Saint Peter and Saint Paul

Turning the World Upside Down!

Acts 12:1-11; Ps 34 (33) 2-9; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19

By Mark Woods

Parish Deacon in Worthing and Chair of the National Diaconate Conference.

Context: mid-week Holyday Morning Mass with congregation mainly made up of retired people.

Aim: to encourage people to trust in the Lord Jesus, and to commit to the proclamation of ‘the whole message’ of the Gospel, even when our lives are turned upside down.

I imagine that, like most of the country, your life has been turned upside down the last 12 months and more by the impact of the Coronavirus. I know how much my life and plans have been affected by it. But if it feels as though everything has been turned upside down, that makes today’s feast particularly relevant. In some ways, despite their quite different backgrounds, Saints Peter and Paul each provide us with a model of how to live through such disruption.

SIMON PETER’S COMPLICATED TRANSFORMATION

Paul, of course, is a Pharisee, well-educated, a Jew born outside the Holy Land, and a Roman Citizen. Peter, on the other hand, is a fisherman, less well-educated, a Jew born in Galilee, and not a Roman Citizen. Yet both have their lives turned upside down by Jesus: from the very moment he meets Jesus (who names him Cephas, which means rock) Peter suddenly finds himself an itinerant disciple, at the side of Jesus, witness to miracles and at the Transfiguration; witness also in today’s Gospel, when he recognises Jesus as the Christ, the Promised One of the Jews.

But that high point isn’t the end of the journey. When Jesus is arrested and tried, Peter now denies knowing him – wouldn’t you?! – before Jesus is first crucified and then rises from the dead and appears to Peter and the disciples. Surely, Peter’s head is spinning now – mine would be! Next, the risen Jesus then ascends into Heaven before the Holy Spirit descends on Peter and the other disciples at Pentecost. Freed from his fear and confusion, now he not only acknowledges his association with Jesus, but proclaims him as the promised Messiah, as the Son of God. Peter, the fisherman, finds himself with the other apostles the leaders of this new body, the Church, a task which eventually leads him to Rome and to martyrdom by crucifixion. I don’t think he imagined any of that the day he woke up and went fishing on the Lake of Galilee, all those years back. This was truly a life turned upside down!

PAUL’S TRAVELLING LIFE

Paul, likewise, is happily living his life, a dedicated Pharisee, ready to rid Judaism of this troublesome sect of Jesu-followers that had sprung up, then suddenly on his way to Damascus his world is also turned upside down. Thrown to the ground he has a vision of Jesus, the one whose followers he is persecuting. He finds himself blind and is led into Damascus by the hand where the Christian disciple Ananias heals him of his blindness, Paul is then filled with the Holy Spirit and baptised. Before long the man who had been persecuting the followers of Jesus is proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God in the Damascus synagogue – what a turnaround!

After a period of prayer and reflection, Paul’s life becomes a life of constant travel around the Mediterranean, founding new communities of mainly non-Jewish Christians, travelling through both modern Turkey and Greece; then back to Jerusalem and eventually via Malta to Rome; always proclaiming Jesus as Lord, often at great danger to his life. Paul is beaten, stoned, flogged, nearly drowned, and then eventually arrested and sent to Rome for trial. He too will end his days in Rome and, like Peter suffer martyrdom. And, just like Peter, that day when he woke to travel to Damascus, he surely didn’t expect that his life would be turned upside down in this way.

TRUST AMIDST TURMOIL

The two saints offer us a vision of a life committed to God; a calling discovered precisely when life is turned upside down. We too need to commit our lives to God. Amidst all the interruptions of our day, we too need to commit our lives to God; to trust in him who freed Peter from Herod’s prison; to trust in him who (as Paul says in his letter to Timothy today), ‘stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear; and so, I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.’ Both Paul and Peter, whatever their faults and failings, give us an example of trust in the Lord Jesus, and of commitment to proclamation of ‘the whole message’ of the Gospel.

Let us too, on this feast day, commit ourselves in these topsy turvy times to trust in the Lord Jesus, and to proclamation of ‘the whole message’ of the Gospel, however much our lives might be turned upside down in doing so.

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