The Two Apostles Who Found the True Faith
June 29, Ss. Peter & Paul, Apostles & Martyrs
These two pillars of the Church were leaders of men who "turned the world upside down," (Acts 17:6) — oikoumenen anastatosantes or subverters of the inhabited earth. (The verb anastatoo, I am informed by my Accordance software, is found nowhere else in secular literature.) The NASB translates the passage as "These men who have upset the world."
Both Peter and Paul knew all about turning things upside down, for both of them had been turned upside down and inside out by Jesus, in different ways. While Paul was a disciple of the Pharisee Gamaliel, Peter became a disciple of the rabbi Jesus, who was the true Subversive.
Peter's experience of Jesus included some rocky moments:
• His professional take on fishing prospects was falsified by a miraculous draught of fish.
• His explanation that Jesus had not been touched by anyone in the crowd was challenged by Jesus himself.
• He was humiliated by sinking in the sea and calling out to be rescued.
• He was called 'Satan' for telling Jesus not to embrace the Cross.
• His call to build booths for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus was ignored.
• His request that Jesus wash more than his feet was rejected.
• His boast that he would remain faithful was turned into a prophecy of denial.
• He was called out by Jesus for falling asleep in Gethsemane.
• He was commanded to stop using his sword at Jesus' arrest.
• He was devastated when Jesus looked at him right after his denial.
• He was told to mind his own business when asking about John's fate.
Of Paul's experience with Gamaliel, by contrast, we know little other than he excelled as a Pharisee. He became determined to persecute and destroy the followers of Jesus, who were led by Peter and the apostles. He oversaw the stoning of Stephen. He was given authority to round up Christians in Damascus.
But then, unlike Peter, for whom conversion was over time and through many missteps and corrections, Saul was rebuked and humiliated in one act on the Damascus road. He was confronted boldly by Christ, blinded, and sent to submit to instruction from the very Christians he had intended to arrest. For some time afterward, he had to face skeptical Christians whom he had sought to put away.
Both Paul and Peter were religious Jews. Paul was really into the Jewish faith, fervently for the Law, as a Pharisee. Peter, it seems, was observant (Acts 10:14) as a fisherman, then became fervently for Jesus' ministry, on his terms and by his own lights. Even with his inspired insight that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God," Peter had much to learn. For Jesus is neither an ordinary nor even an extraordinary rabbi but so much more than Peter, Nicodemus, Gamaliel, Caiaphas, or Paul could have ever imagined.
Jesus rebukes a storm and it obeys. He calls a withered limb to be stretched forth and it becomes healthy. He tells a paralytic to get up and carry his bed and he does. He tells a little girl to arise from death and she does. He commands a man dead four days to leave behind his tomb and he does. Imagine a man who does such things turning and saying to you, "O ye, of little faith!" I'd pay attention, I hope!
Yet that is how Jesus still speaks to us in the Gospels. Teaching, inviting, rebuking, forgiving, admonishing, commanding, encouraging, and exhorting us — whenever we have those "ears to hear" he so often mentions.
Peter and Paul were, first and foremost, men overturned, shaken, and stirred by Jesus's words, actions, life, death and resurrection. These two pillars sealed their witness by dying for Christ, both in Rome, Peter crucified upside down, and Paul beheaded. To spread the word about Jesus and his saving work, you must be willing to be turned upside down so that you're right side up. Only then might someone by used by Him to be a pillar in His Church.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James
James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.