Who Do You Say I Am?

St Peter and St. Paul

There are some familiar scenes in this week’s readings from Matthew such as in 8:18 when Jesus told His disciples to sail to the other side of the lake. In the journey, He fell asleep and a storm that periodically blows over the Sea of Galilee whipped the fishing boat out of control. The disciples panicked and woke the Lord, only to be chided by Him for their lack of faith. With His mere word, He calmed the sea and caused marvel among those in the boat.

The early Church treasured stories like this, for it read them allegorically. The boat represented the Church and the storm symbolised persecution; under these conditions, everyone panicked. Then, Jesus would “awake” and calm would return to the community, as the persecution receded. In response, faith would grow.  Like the disciples in the boat, we, too, experience times of trial where we might be tempted to panic. The moral of the story is perseverance. Hold on; Jesus will soon “calm the waters.”

When was the last time you felt like a disciple in the boat? What was the last storm you survived? How did Jesus calm the waters of your crisis?

Then on June 29 the Church celebrates the feast day of SS. Peter & Paul. As early as the year 258, there is evidence of celebrating the solemnities of Saint Peter and Saint Paul on the same day. These two saints are the founders of the See of Rome, through their preaching, ministry and martyrdom there.

Later in Matthew (16:16), in a non-Jewish neighbourhood of Galilee, Jesus asked “Who do you say I am?”  Simon’s answer, “Son of the living God”, represented the consensus of Jesus’ inner circle and recognises the unique relationship between Jesus and God, His Father.  In return for the answer to his question, Jesus “anointed” Simon with a blessing and a new mission, represented by a new name and a new status.  Jesus renamed Simon as Peter, or “Rock.”  Now, Peter was not only leader of the apostles; he was leader of the Church with the power of its head, Jesus Christ.  Peter’s answer and commission marked a turning point in the life of Jesus and His followers. From this point forward, Jesus was on the road to Jerusalem, to His death and resurrection.

St. Peter spent his last years in Rome, leading the Church through persecution and eventually being martyred in the year 64. He was crucified upside-down at his own request, because he claimed he was not worthy to die as his Lord did.  St. Peter’s Basilica is built over his tomb.

St. Paul was the Apostle of the Gentiles. His letters are included in the writings of the New Testament, and through them we learn much about his life and the faith of the early Church.  Before receiving the name Paul, he was Saul, a Jewish Pharisee who persecuted Christians in Jerusalem.   When Saul went to Damascus to also persecute the Christians there, he was suddenly surrounded by a great light. He was blinded and fell off his horse. He then heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Saul continued to Damascus, where he was baptised and his sight was restored. He took the name Paul and spent the remainder of his life preaching the Gospel tirelessly to the Gentiles of the Mediterranean world. He was imprisoned and taken to Rome, where he was beheaded in the year 67.  He is buried in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.

You can find out more about these saints by clicking here.