Much has been said about the conflicts between Saints Peter and Paul. I have commented on them myself. However, whatever their conflicts, they were martyred in Rome at roughly the same time and that is one of the reasons they are celebrated together in one Feast. Let us see if they have more in common
Both Peter and Paul were penitents. Peter betrayed Jesus by denying that he knew him when pressured by the people in the high priest’s courtyard. Paul approved of the stoning of Stephen and persecuted the Christians. Peter heard the cock crow and he wept. Paul head a voice asking him: “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Both came to know themselves to be profoundly forgiven sinners. How do we know this? Both preached God’s forgiveness to others.
When. at Pentecost, Peter confronted the people with the truth of what they did in Jerusalem forty days earlier, that they handed an innocent man over to death on the cross, they “were cut to the heart” and asked how they could be saved. Peter’s reply was: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2: 38) Peter was announcing both the truth of what the people had done and the forgiveness of God for what they had done.
In his epistle to the Romans, Paul wrote: “Therefore we have been buried with [Jesus] by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6: 4) This is Paul’s more complex way of saying that repentance and baptism bring us forgiveness of our participation in the death of Christ so as to be free to rise with Christ and live new lives in Christ.
In the First Epistle attributed to Peter, the author cites the forgiving example of Christ: “When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” (1 Pet. 2: 23) It is troubling that Peter is speaking specifically to slaves but we should note that the masters are not being upheld as good examples of anything. Later in the Epistle, Peter says to everybody: “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.” (1 Pet. 3: 8–9) The forgiving example of Christ should be followed by everybody. (Could one follow this admonition and still be a slave master?)
Likewise Paul makes the identical admonitions when writing to the Romans: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” and “never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12: 14, 19–21) Lofty words but there is a troublesome sting to them. It should be noted, though, that vengeance is indeed God’s prerogative. The teachings on the part of both Paul and Peter raise the questions as to whether God actually uses that prerogative. The burning coals in the quote from Proverbs are also troubling, but sometimes an undeserved act of kindness has that effect.
What we can celebrate today on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul is their united front in preaching the forgiveness of the Risen Victim which we must both receive and give to others.