Simon and Saul were both stubborn men. Simon was all muscle and brawn; Saul was all moralism and brain. They were both passionate men with very firm views. But all their bravado actually masked a deep fragility. Deep down, they were both cowards. They were afraid of God, the real God. Simon wanted a Jesus-God to suit himself; Saul did not want him at all.
For all that, Jesus was brawnier and brainier and more certain in his views than either of them. Mere human fragility and fear were no obstacle to him. Jesus knew them, loved them, called them and sent them. He revealed his true self to them. He bowled them over, left them speechless, with his compassionate and merciful love. In revealing himself to them, he revealed them to themselves, since divine love draws out and fashions our true identity. Their names were no longer to be Simon and Saul, for these names only identified them in their relations to other human beings. Now they were Peter and Paul, names that identified them in their relation to Jesus.
Jesus draws Peter to himself more gradually, more painstakingly. With Paul, he knocks him to the ground in one fell swoop. Jesus weans Peter off his weaknesses and insecurities and transforms them into rock-like strength. He shocks Paul into a sudden and dramatic change of life. From being a stubborn opponent of Jesus, he becomes the most intrepid proclaimer of his Name.
Both were made apostles and martyrs. Apostle means “one who is sent.” Martyr means “witness.” Peter and Paul are sent by Jesus to witness. To what? To the truth of the real Jesus: that he is the Son of the living God and that he died and rose again for human salvation. They were sent to people who were as stubborn and close-minded as they had been themselves. Some they won over to Christ. Others laughed in their faces. Others killed them with murderous rage because, at root, they really wanted to kill Christ. But their martyrdom was their glory and victory, the vindication of their witness. By it, they became fully and finally transformed into Jesus whose death and resurrection were seen through their own sacrifice.
What can we take from all this?
No matter what we are like as people, no matter our personality make-up, weaknesses or fragilities, they are no match for the power of Jesus’ love. He draws us relentlessly to himself. In the process, he heals us and draws us away from what resists him. Certainly, we can say no, “I will not serve”, but it is an irrational decision. For only the service of Christ will reveal to us who we really are, our true name in the sight of Christ. Saying no to God is, in the end, saying no to ourselves. For without God, we are no-one.
We are all called to be apostles, though not in the same way. We are all called to be martyrs, but not in the same way. A father who teaches his child to worship God is an apostle. A mother who, calling on Jesus, bears the pain of a sick or unruly child is a martyr. A young person who remains faithful to Christ in the face of mockery from friends is both an apostle and a martyr. Those who are faithful until death in marriage are apostles and, some might say, also martyrs! Being an apostle has a spectrum of applications. Being a martyr likewise.
But we can only be apostles and martyrs of Jesus if we respond to him with “all the love we can give, every day of our life for as long as we live.” We can’t be sent from Jesus, if we are not close to him first. We can’t witness to Jesus if we don’t let ourselves experience him first.
Simon became Peter. Saul became Paul. Who would, or have, or will you become because of Jesus? What is his name for you? By the cross of Peter and the sword of Paul may all of us come close to Jesus and experience him deeply. Then, like them, we will want no other name than the name Jesus gives us; we will want to be nothing other than his apostles and his martyrs in the heart of his Church.