Below is my Thought for the Day, broadcast on BBC Radio Kent 29 June 2014:
Today, 29th June, is the day when we commemorate two important characters from the new Testament, the Apostles Peter and Paul, who became leaders of the early Christian movement.
Peter – actually his nickname, meaning ‘rock’, perhaps for his solid reliability – was an uneducated shy man, an ordinary fisherman on Lake Galilee, who was one of the first to respond to the magnetic travelling preacher to whose teachings he later committed his life. Paul, on the other hand, was a member of the educated elite, confident moving in elevated social circles and mixing with the ruling class. We don’t know if Paul knew about Jesus when he was actually preaching – he makes his first appearance later on.
Despite being an early and very dear friend, Peter famously denied that he knew Jesus when the heat was really on and things were looking bad for his mentor. It is easy to imagine why: probably just fear, although, when the cock crows, he immediately regrets his cowardice and weeps with shame.
Paul, on the other hand, was initially an active persecutor of the early Christians, present at what we would now see as barbaric executions and stonings, until he is overcome suddenly and unexpectedly with regret and converted to the cause of those he had been persecuting on the famous Road to Damascus. He goes on to be a prolific writer of lengthy letters to the early Christian communities dotted around the Mediterranean.
What do the lives of these two very different but equally zealous early Christians tell us today? Perhaps that there is room for everyone in the Church – the quiet, authoritative, trusted follower, alongside the ambitious, educated, extravert visionary. Peter and Paul represent two types of leadership as well: one leads quietly, by example and with steady loyalty, and the other leads through the power of eloquent persuasion and reasoning. The fact that we recall Peter and Paul together reminds us perhaps that both kinds of leadership are important.
And finally, it was to Damascus that Paul was travelling when he experienced his lightening conversion to Christianity. In our own day, the mention of Damascus reminds us of the terrible suffering of so many in the land Syria, including the Christian successors of the apostles, who are being systematically driven out of the places they have inhabited for two thousand years. Now, more than ever, they deserve our support and prayer.