St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

Jesus with Sts Peter and Paul (610x351)What a daring deed it is to call someone a saint. Saint comes from the Latin word for holy. So, let us speak in clear English today. Today, we celebrate the Feast of Holy Peter and Holy Paul.

How can we say that? Only God is Holy. That’s what we sing every week in the liturgy. Today, we sang that truth using the words of our old liturgy: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth.” Peter and Paul were born sinful and unclean, just like you and me. So why does the Church have the boldness to call Peter and Paul “holy”?

Well, maybe we call them holy because they lived in Bible times. Life seemed so different then. God came to people and gave them real visions; people could even see and touch Jesus. Maybe, Peter and Paul were holier than us today because they could see with their own eyes what we only get to hear. That had to impress them in a way that we no longer have today.

Maybe, if I had the chance they had to see Jesus and talk to Him face to face, then I’d be a more-holy person. Instead, I’m always stuck in the same rut of struggling with the same sins, day in and day out. Come to think of it, it’s unfair that Peter and Paul got to do all that, that Moses got to lead Israel, and that Mary got to be the mother of God in the flesh. No wonder they get the title of “holy”! They had all the advantages!

Yet, here I am struggling from day to day to hold on to a faith that, at times, seems barely able to tread water. Here I sit with my problems–and no miracles arrive. Jesus doesn’t come to my house to heal my relatives, like He did for Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus doesn’t come along to save me from my car wreck like He saved Paul from his shipwreck. No wonder I struggle, and they soar. It’s not fair.

Ah, envy is such a dangerous game. It creates resentment in the heart and leaves little room for joy, love, and compassion. It keeps you from rejoicing in the good fortune of others, filling you with bitter bile. Who are you to begrudge God His generosity?

Does it honestly make sense to envy your neighbor who has greater wealth, or talent, or physical beauty than you? Does it make you happy to obsess on what you don’t have that you wish you did have? Do daydreams dominate you with what you lack? Or is your misery made all the worse when you wake up from such a covetous dream, embittered against God and the world for what others have that you don’t?

Repent. Do not begrudge God His generosity. He gives according to His grace–and He gives as He sees fit. As each star in the heavens has its own luster, shine, and glory, so also does every saint of God has his own gifts that the Lord has given him. It’s insane for the North Star to be jealous of Orion’s belt. In the same way, it’s insane for the ear to be jealous of the eye. And it is just as irrational for one child of God to be jealous of another.

Here’s the truth, dear saint of God: You don’t have to go digging in the Bible too deeply to find Peter scolding Jesus or Paul killing Christians. You’ll find Peter denying Jesus and Paul getting in heated arguments with others, like Barnabas. Paul even confessed that he committed sins he detested and didn’t do what he knew was right. And so it turns out that those saints, those holy ones of God, were fallen, sinful people, just like you and me.

And so we learn an important truth today: We don’t call reckless Peter and hot-tempered Paul “holy” because of what they did or who they were in and of themselves. No, we call them saints, we call them holy, not because of who they were, but WHOSE they were. They belonged to God.

And that is why you, too, are a saint, you, too, are holy. You are holy in the same way that Peter and Paul were holy: by God’s grace. By God’s gift, you are His holy child, washed clean in the blood of the Christ, the Son of the living God. For that’s what it takes to wash away Peter’s scolding of Jesus and Paul’s murder of others–the death of God Himself on the cross!

That’s what it takes to wipe your slate clean, as well. It takes Jesus’ suffering and death to undo the damage that you’ve caused with your jealousy, strife, and wounding words. It takes Jesus’ death to make you and the entire world acceptable to God the Father. Only this is acceptable to God: holiness. And that is what you are in Christ.

So, see yourself in Peter and Paul. They were fallen, frail, and weak. They were sick and tired of being sick and tired. They were cowardly, angry, pathetic, confused, and worn out. The Bible shows Peter and Paul in each of those moods and states of sin. But in Christ, they are holy; in Christ, they are saints. And so are you.

But, maybe, you’re still wondering about those mind-blowing miracles in those days of old–about the voice of God coming to them. Surely, they had an advantage, which today God has not bequeathed to you. In that way, do you not feel cheated?

But, no, even so, they still had no advantage over us. In today’s Gospel reading, Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And how did Jesus respond? He said: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” Such potent words; God the Father had revealed that truth to Peter. What an exceptional man that Peter was for God the Father to give him such a message!

But here’s how God the Father revealed that truth, that Jesus was the Messiah, to Peter. In John, chapter one, we read:

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John [the Baptizer] had said and followed Jesus. Andrew at once found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which means “Anointed One”) and he brought Simon to Jesus. When Jesus saw him, he said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). [John 1:40-42]

That’s Peter’s message from heaven. His brother, Andrew, told him that Jesus was the Messiah. That’s how he found out! There were no bells and whistles. There were no mysterious voices from the clouds. Peter heard the plain preaching of God’s Word. In other words, Peter’s message from God came to him in the same way that God still sends messages: through the preached Word.

So, you have that same gift that Peter had. God has also pulled you into His kingdom through the preached Word, through the same baptism that Jesus gave Peter and Paul to do, through the same Lord’s Supper that they presided over and handed down to the Church, even to this day.

And you should take to heart even more of what Jesus said to Peter. Did you hear what Jesus called Peter? He called him Simon “son of Jonah.” But did you notice back in John’s Gospel that the name of Peter’s father was John, not Jonah? So, what’s going on?

Jesus is giving a double meaning with the name of his disciple, Simon. Jesus calls him Peter, which means Rock, for on the rock of his confession the Church will be founded. But Jesus also has a double meaning in mind by calling Peter’s father, “Jonah.” For like Jonah, Peter will have to learn how to die and rise. Peter will have to discover the rocky path of giving up on himself and trusting in the Lord.

And Jesus even has a double meaning in mind when He changes Saul’s name to “Paul.” Saul also had to die to his former life as a Jesus-hating Pharisee and be reborn as the Apostle Paul. And the Saul-Paul name change has yet another meaning, for Paul means “short one,” and Paul will take that meaning to heart by calling himself the least of the Apostles.

And so it is with you, dearest saint loved by God. You, too, are a son of Jonah, someone who must die and rise. As Jonah was swallowed by a whale, but was found alive again on the beach at Nineveh, so also have you been buried in the watery grave of baptism, all so you could have new life in rebirth. Rocky, the son of Jonah, died crucified upside down in martyrdom for his Lord. Shorty, the least of the Apostles, died with his head cut off by an emperor who would not worship Jesus.

So also are you, dear saint of God, headed for death. There’s no getting out of the Church on earth without that. Everyone leaves the Church militant the same way he entered. Your loved ones carried you to the baptismal font to die with Christ in holy baptism. And the day is coming when your loved ones will carry you out to the graveyard to be buried with Christ.

But have no fear, for the gates of death cannot stand against Christ’s Church. For Jesus will come and knock down those gates. He will raise you. He will raise Peter, the rocky one. He will raise Paul, the short one. And He will raise all the other saints of God. He will show you what it means to be a real son of Jonah.

Beloved saints of God: you are baptized, you are forgiven, God loves you to death. Just as Jesus was raised, so, too, will you be raised. So, let us join with Peter, Paul, Moses, Elijah, and Mary, and all the multitude of heaven, praising God’s great and glorious name, rejoicing in His presence, and calling for Him to hasten the day of His appearing. Maranatha, come quickly Lord Jesus. Amen.