Though at times we can see the necessity for the axiom, "Ignorance is bliss," ignorance might also stop us from appreciating things which could help us better understand ourselves and situations in life. This is certainly the case with today's three readings.

Each passage provides us with "good thoughts" about Peter and Paul, the champions of early Christianity. None of the readings were actually composed by them - but that really doesn't matter. 

The first two (Acts 12:1-11; II Timothy 4:6-8,17-18) help us reflect on the terrific example the pair gave by patiently suffering for their faith. And this Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 16:13-19) demonstrates that such faith-filled leadership is the rock on which our own faith is grounded. What could be better?

In context

The problem is that most who hear these passages today are ignorant of what was going on in the expression of that faith when those readings were composed.

Scholars always bring up one glaring difficulty with Luke's Acts of the Apostles. Presuming he wrote it in the mid-80s, and that Peter and Paul were martyred in the early 60s, why doesn't he mention their heroic deaths? Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome, long after it gives any further information about Peter.

Lucan experts offer one explanation which revolves around the evangelist's attempt both to assure his Christian readers they have nothing to fear from the Roman Empire, and to guarantee the Empire it has nothing to fear from Christianity. 

Peter and Paul's execution by Roman authorities doesn't fit his optimistic thesis, so he ends his work before the Apostles' deaths.
Though this makes sense, some Scripture scholars believe there's more to the omission, and even to Peter's special Gospel prerogatives. Some scholars believe the death of these heroic figures was actually instigated by fellow Christians!

Early tensions

Many of us know nothing about liberal/conservative tensions in earliest Christianity. Such a phenomenon didn't develop only after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Anyone who holds that opinion hasn't read or studied Paul's Letter to the Galatians - the second oldest Christian document we possess.
The Gentile question was explosive for early Christians: Do we demand non-Jews become Jews before we permit them to be Christians, or admit them as non-Jews with no obligation to observe the 613 Laws of Moses? The conservatives, under the leadership of James, refused to do the latter. They fought with liberals like Paul.

According to many Matthean scholars, this battle is the reason for today's gospel. The evangelist, writing for a Jewish/ Christian community, puts Peter forth as an example of a leader who bridges the gap between conservative James and liberal Paul.

We're edified by Peter and Paul's determination to live their faith to the point of suffering and death. But we're also embarrassed to read Clement of Rome's recollection that the Apostles were killed out of a "rivalrous grudge." 

In other words, conservative Christians engineered their arrest to get them "out of the way." No wonder Luke mentions nothing of either's death.

It's far easier to suffer for one's faith when the pain comes from outside that faith, more difficult when the pain comes from within the faith itself. Ignorance of that reality certainly isn't bliss.

(06/26/08)