Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Solemnity Of Sts. Peter And Paul

By Father Donald Dilger

MATTHEW 16:13-19    (Acts 12:1-11; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18)

St. Peter: Simon, son of John (Johnson).  Nothing is known of him until Jesus, walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, calls him as one of the first four disciples along with Simon’s brother Andrew and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John. All four were fishermen. According to Luke, the latter two with their father Zebedee were business partners with the Johnson brothers. These were not poor fishermen. Archaeologists have found and researched the home of Simon and Andrew. It was a large building with a tile roof. Poor people did not have large homes with tile roofs. Such accommodations indicate a prosperous business enterprise involving an extended family. Recall that Simon’s mother-in-law lived with Simon and Andrew’s families. That she was a member of the household is clear. After Jesus cured her of a fever, she waited on him and other guests.


A mother-in-law is normally acquired by marriage. Thus Simon was a married man. We know nothing about children, but a later legend attributed at least one daughter to this couple. That Simon (and probably others) did not give up quite everything, including a wife, to follow Jesus is indicated by Paul’s question in 1 Corinthians 9:5. Responding to critics, Paul asks, “Don’t we (Paul and Barnabas) have a right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” The name Cephas, Aramaic word for ‘rock,' is the title by which Paul came to know him and usually (with two exceptions) speaks of him by that name (nine times).


Simon (and Andrew) come across to us not only successful but also shrewd businessmen. Their city of origin was Bethsaida on the NE shore of the Sea of Galilee. A problem: this city was in a province ruled by Herod Philip. When the fishermen of that location took their catch across the northern end of the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum for processing or for transport to the fish-drying tower at Magdala, they crossed into the province of Galilee, which was ruled by Herod Antipas. Crossing borders entailed paying toll fees. Smart move: they moved to the NW shore to Capernaum. It was at Capernaum, in the home of Simon and Andrew, that Jesus headquartered his mission in Galilee.


With this kind of background, it is clear that Jesus knew what he was doing when he appointed a successful and shrewd businessman to oversee his mission to bring people to the kingdom of God. To symbolize the authority and strength of Simon, Jesus gave him the symbolic title ‘Rock.” As Isaiah 51:2 calls Abraham the "rock" from which the people of God were quarried, so Simon Peter is called the "rock" which stabilizes the Christian mission. Simon Peter had the business acumen needed to oversee the Church, but his personality needed some adjustments. From a foot-in-mouth impulsive disciple, Jesus chiseled Simon Peter into the Rock on which he built his Church. That Simon Peter’s reformed personality had an overwhelming influence over early Christianity is especially demonstrated by Paul. This most independent of "free-lance" operators traveled to Jerusalem to consult with Simon Peter.


St. Paul: Saul of Tarsus, a city in what is today SE Turkey, was born into a family of devout Jews who belonged to the religious group called ‘the Pharisees.’ These were mostly laity, and some priests, who devoted themselves to living the laws of the Torah and the various traditions that evolved to protect and sometimes extend those laws. Paul was proud of being a Pharisee, a fact that should not be forgotten when we encounter the negative depiction of the Pharisees in our gospels. We do not know what caused Saul of Tarsus to change his name to Paul, or whether he already from the time of his naming was given both the Hebrew name Saul and the Roman name Paul. For some reason he held citizenship in the Roman Empire, was proud of it, and used it to his advantage.


Saul was educated in Jerusalem, trained as a scribe, a biblical scholar, as a disciple or student of Gamaliel, a great scholar of his time. Saul’s zeal was so great, that when a small group of "heretics," later called Christians, drew large numbers of converts to belief in Jesus as Messiah/Christ, he obtained letters of authority from the high priest in Jerusalem to travel to the synagogues up north in Damascus, Syria, to bring these heretics in chains to Jerusalem. It was during this journey that Paul was struck down and temporarily blinded by the Lord to make him see reality. From Saul the zealous persecutor, Jesus formed him into Paul, the great Christian missionary to the Gentiles.


Much is known of Paul’s personality and his work from his letters. His restless energy spread the gospel through much of Asia Minor (Turkey) and Greece by at least three major missionary journeys. He suffered from former colleagues who now regarded him as a traitor to the faith of his ancestors. Eventually he was arrested and turned over to Roman authorities. He had intended to travel to Rome and have that Christian community support a missionary trip to “the ends of the earth,” Spain. He was taken to Rome as a prisoner of the State. There is enough evidence to support as historical fact that both Peter and Paul died as martyrs in Rome under a persecution of Christians by the Emperor Nero about 64 A.D.