Sunday, June 29, 2014
Today in the Catholic World the Sunday liturgy concedes its place to the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, the two giant apostles of the early Church. The pictures that we see of the two have St. Peter with the keys and St. Paul with a book or a sword. They were the prime examples of the messengers of Jesus to the Jews and the Gentiles: men of great passion, strength and love and at the same time flawed human beings.
Reading about their lives and the way they reacted with those around them, if it came to a vote among the disciples of that time it is unlikely they would have received the votes for the positions they had in the early Church. Peter was born in Israel but Paul was born among the Jews who lived outside Israel in what we now call Turkey, both were selected by Jesus for their mission to the world.
Peter was a fisherman, with little formal education and with a good heart but not too quick in understanding what he was called to do. Peter, showed his weakness in denying Jesus three times. Paul fought with Peter over his failure to follow the teachings of Jesus when it came to food because of Peter's fear of the disciples who maintained the teaching from the past. When they were not present Peter readily ate with the gentiles. He was called a hypocrite by Paul because of this dissembling.
Paul, on his trip to Damascus to persecute the Christians, experienced Jesus in a way that changed his whole life. He was blinded and helped by Ananias, was baptized, and began to preach Jesus to all, but in a way that annoyed many of his fellow Jews, so much so that they plotted to kill him. His friends warned him of the plot, they helped him to escape to Jerusalem. But even in Jerusalem the disciples feared him, and it was with the help of Barnabas that he was introduced to the leaders of the Church.
Barnabas explained how he worked in Damascus in spreading the message of Jesus in the Synagogues; he was accepted and worked freely in Jerusalem, but even there the Greek speaking Jews responded by trying to kill him, and his fellow disciples told him the best thing was to go home to Tarsus. We hear the whole area returned to peace.
Barnabas was sent to Antioch by the leaders of the Church to help in the evangelization of the city and seeing how much had to be done he decided to go to Tarsus to find Paul and work together with him. For a whole year they worked in Antioch where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians.
Barnabas and Paul returned to Jerusalem where they began the first of the mission journeys. During this journey, John Mark who came along as an errand boy, a cousin of Barnabas, left to return to Jerusalem without word, which Paul would not forgive and because of this on the second journey, Barnabas and Paul separated and went their different ways. Here is another example of Paul's stubbornness but we know Barnabas and John Mark were reunited in friendship later, expressed in Paul's epistles.
We are all weak individuals and the story of these two giants of the faith should give us much consolation for they could work through their difficulties and with their openness to graces, despite some of their character faults, did great things. They were willing to examine themselves and to work continually in becoming more of what they knew they were called to be.