Peter, Paul & Our Tumultuous Times

Sunday, July 12 (OS June 29), 2020: 5th Sunday after Pentecost; Holy, Glorious, and All-Praised Pre-eminent Apostles Peter and Paul.

Epistle: Romans 10:1-10/2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9

Gospel: Matthew 8:28-9:1/Matthew 16:13-19

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Whether Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical, all Christian traditions have offered up martyrs for Christ. Among all those who have died for Christ, there is one tragic class, that I want to focus on to help us understand the significance of today’s celebration of Ss Peter and Paul for our tumultuous times.

Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, or Evangelical Christians, all have in our ranks martyrs who suffered for Christ at the hand of other Christians. All Christian traditions include those who not only died for Christ but were killed in His Name.

There is St Peter the Aleut, to name only one Orthodox martyr here in America. Among the Catholics, there is the example of among others of the era, the 6th century English. Among Protestants and Evangelical, there are all those remembered in Fox’s Book of Martyrs.

Tragic though it is that Christians have killed Christians, in a fallen world it is not a surprise. All murder, indeed all violence, since the time of Cain and Abel is in the end fratricide (see Matthew 5:21-22).

And every death, every act of violence, is the result of one person refusing to see the humanity of another. In place of my neighbor for whom Christ suffered and died, I see the representative of an alien cult. Rather than the person who God loves, I see an abstraction. It is this abstraction, this blindness to the presence of a person created in the image of God, that makes violence and ultimately murder possible, reasonable and even desirable.

And it is this tendency to violence and murder that we see around us today.

I’m told again and again, “But Father! You can say Black Lives Matter! They’re all Marxist!” Or, from another quarter, “But Father! Don’t you see? Trump voters are all racists!”

It’s worth pausing at this point and reminding myself that my heart is divided. I never do things for only one reason, good or bad. Even the good things I do, I do for mixed reasons. This is precisely why Jesus tells us in the Beatitude that it is only “the pure of heart” who “shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). And in a fallen world, none of us are pure of heart.

None of us do the right thing for simply the right reason. Or, to out in another way, we all of us are tempted to do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

While I might know this about myself I am certain that this is true for others. This is why it is easy for me to dismiss the justice or truth of a person’s complaint or concern by assuming he or she acts or speaks out of malice.

The irony here is overwhelming. Blindness to my own sin makes it all that much easier to see yours.

Because we are unique, because we are different from each other, we will always disagree. We will always look at the same evidence and draw slight–or even dramatically–different conclusions. In the face of this, I am tempted to dismiss not just your views but to assume you’re acting with evil intent.

So what should we do? To answer this, let’s look at the Apostles Peter and Paul.

These two saints frequently clashed. While their disagreements never, thank God, rose to the level of violence, they were often pointed in their criticism of each other.

Paul accuses Peter of hypocrisy and abandoning the Gospel to curry favor with Jewish Christians who saw obedience to the Law of Moses as a pre-condition to faith in Jesus Christ (see Galatians 2:11-13). And if Peter isn’t, quite, as pointed in his criticism of Paul as Paul is of him, he nevertheless warns us that the Apostle to the Gentiles, “our beloved brother,” is often “hard to understand” (see 2 Peter 3:14-16).

And yet when we look at their icons, we realize that for all they clashed the Holy Apostles loved each other. In their icons we see them not only embracing each other in love but that it is their loving embrace that supports the Church.

I mentioned at the beginning that all Christian traditions include martyrs killed in Christ’s name. What I didn’t say then but will now, is that all Christian communities also include among their number, those who in Christ’s name killed their brother or sister in Christ. And, before you ask, yes Orthodox Christians are guilty of this as well.

As Christians, the disagreement, the dissension, and even the violence that we see not only in America but around the world isn’t a surprise. If we who are in Christ have at times succumb to the temptation to allow disagreement to become the occasion for violence why do we think our nation, our state, our city, or for that matter, our friends who don’t know Christ are exempt?

If I who know Christ dismiss my neighbor in his need because his heart–like mine–is impure, then I open the door to the violence that afflicts America, Wisconsin, and Madison.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Jesus tells us the judgment we give, is the judgment we will receive and the measure we use, will “be measured back” to us (see Matthew 7:2).

Let us then give our neighbors the benefit of the doubt. No matter how mixed their motives, let us see the truth of their complaints, the justice of their concerns. We do this for others because Christ has done this for us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory