We must initially understand that, on the feasts of Peter and Paul, none of our three liturgical readings was written by either Apostle. (Luke and Matthew wrote almost 20 years after the duo’s martyrdom; the author of II Timothy, even later.)

But we must also understand that we’re often poor judges of the effect we have on other people’s lives. Writing a generation or two after Peter and Paul’s death, our sacred authors probably are better able to reflect on the impact these two pillars of Christianity had on the Church than they themselves would have been. All three knew they were writing only because of that impact.

The earliest of our writings is Matthew’s well-known section telling us why Jesus changed Simon’s name to “Rock.” After professing faith in Jesus as Messiah and God, and being told that this insight comes from God alone, Simon hears the words, “You are Rock and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Mt. 16: 13-19).

Peter the First

To understand this passage correctly, we must first note that almost every post-Resurrection Gospel narrative mentions that Peter was the first, or among the first, to recognize and believe in the risen Jesus. It’s precisely that faith in Jesus which is the foundation on which the Christian community is built. Matthew, reflecting on his own faith in Jesus as “God-among-us,” understands that its roots were in Peter’s initial, God-inspired step into the unknown one day in Caesarea Philippi.

In Acts, Luke leads us to reflect on another dimension of that same faith (Acts 12: 1-11). Peter, a prototype for all Christians, not only believes in Jesus and is willing to suffer for that belief, but his miraculous liberation from Herod Agrippa’s prison demonstrates that God takes care of those who trust in Jesus.

For some strange reason, our liturgical reading ends one verse before Peter proclaims the reason Luke included this particular narrative in his work. “Now I know for certain,” Peter announces, “that God sent His angel and rescued me.”

Luke isn’t naively stressing God’s care of those who believe in Jesus. As I mentioned above, Peter had been martyred more than 20 years before Luke wrote. Both Luke and his readers knew that such divine deliverance only went so far. Yet their faith in Jesus convinced them that God’s care went far beyond this life. Such faith would eventually escort them into eternal life.

Award in heaven

That’s why the unknown author of II Timothy created a writing in which the long-deceased Paul could reflect on his own faith and trust (II Tim 4: 6-8, 17-18). “I have kept the faith,” Paul proclaims. “From now on, the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for His appearance. The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.”

Paul was ceratin there was more to his life than just the pain and frustration which frequently filled that life. The care and concern with which Jesus surrounded Paul’s life and ministry wouldn’t end with Paul’s death.

All Christians need to hear these words frequently. Bogged down with the nonsense permeating each of our lives, our only hope is to put those lives into an eternal context. Just like Paul, we eventually have to understand that what we do or don’t do here has an effect beyond here.

Matthew, Luke and the author of II Timothy were grateful to Peter and Paul for showing them some of the implications of giving themselves to Jesus. They couldn’t think or write about these two heroes of Christianity without pulling their personal, faith-filled lives into the picture.

One person of faith always affects the actions of other people of faith. Is it possible that, one day, someone else’s faith will be affected by the way we live our faith?

(06-26-03)