2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
"Love without truth is powerless. Truth without love is just plain cruel."
It goes without saying that Peter and Paul were giants in the early church. Believers and leaders whose personalities were larger than life and whose influence would endure well into the 21st century. But why?
From what we can tell, neither one seemed to possess skills anyone would associate with future greatness. We know from the Gospels that Peter was a simple Galilean fisherman when called to follow Jesus. Impetuous, combative, fiercely loyal, he was also at the same time weak, unsure, and emotionally unstable. From the Acts of the Apostles and his Letters, we know Paul was at first an enemy of the new faith – perhaps seen by some as a rising star in the nascent rabbinic Judaism of his day. He was someone, it seemed, no one wanted to tangle with, even after his startling conversion to the new Way. While sophisticated, direct, learned, a brilliant and eloquent preacher, Paul could also be petty, petulant, and extremely insecure. Given all their humanness, however, both men’s avowed faith in Jesus the Christ helped to transform a small insignificant illicit Jewish sect into a major world religion spread across seven continents.
At their best, Peter and Paul’s greatness stems from the fact that both represent the Christian message as Truth rooted in Love. Remember Jesus’ last conversation with Peter in John’s gospel? "Peter do you love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." "Feed my lambs." "Feed my sheep." While Peter denied his Lord prior to the Crucifixion, after the Resurrection Peter was a different man. A man committed in his heart and soul to love – to love his Lord.
Paul was insistent that the message he preached was always a message of truth and he was a passionate defender of that truth. He goes so far as to tell one of his divided communities that even if an angel should come preaching a different message, not to believe it. Paul knew how lies, deceit, and falsehoods poison not only individuals and families, but divide and destroy groups as well. He committed his life to preach the Truth – "to preach Christ Jesus and Him Crucified."
It is no coincidence that both of these great saints spent the last of their remaining lives in Rome. As the center of the Empire, Rome eventually drew everyone and everything to itself. We know very little regarding the last days of these faithful men. However what we can assume is that both died professing the faith they lived for – the Truth rooted in Love.
The greatness of these two men therefore is not based on their persons, their abilities or their accomplishments. Their greatness is based on their faithfulness to their Lord. And is not that in reach for all of us?
Patrick Quinn ([email protected]) is the director of Planned Giving at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago.