|Durer's St Peter|
This week’s readings record two of the most important events in the history of the Christian church – Christ’s post-Resurrection commissions to the apostles Paul and Peter. Together these two figures tower over all others in the Acts of the Apostles, and even now, two thousand years later, they remain compelling models of what really it means to be an ‘evangelist’ – a preacher of the news that humanity’s salvation is to be found in the life and death of Jesus.
The contrast between them is instructive. Christ’s appearance on the road to Damascus is probably the most famous conversion experience in human history. Saul, renowned for his strength of will and motivated by a profound hatred of Jesus, is first reduced to being led by the hand, and then transformed into Paul, Christ’s most passionate and theologically articulate servant. Peter is a simpler and a softer character. In his case, the risen Christ transforms an almost dog-like faithfulness into inspirational leadership that quickly wins him the deepest respect of the earliest Christians.
|Conversion of St Paul -- Benjamin West (1738-1820)|
Peter and Paul were both good Jews, and as Christians they remained so. When they finally met it was their attitudes to Judaism that caused their disagreements. Paul heard in Christ a call to transcend traditional boundaries that Peter was reluctant to abandon. It was a dispute they found ways of negotiating, and like the other differences between them, it reveals something very important. Right from the outset, the Bible tells us, Christ chooses to entrust his ‘flock’ to shepherds with a wide variety of gifts and sharply contrasting styles.