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‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’ is one of those phrases most of us use or hear without thinking where it comes from. Sometimes the phrase is attributed to a decision, from around the year 1500, to divert taxes meant for Westminster Abbey (dedicated to St Peter) to fund repairs at St Paul’s. Interesting though that is – I suspect the Dean of Westminster might not get his money back, even if it is true! What the phrase does show is that St Peter and St Paul are closely connected in the church’s tradition and teaching. We remember them on 29th June, the day I’m writing this.
Of course, they were both Jewish men of the first century, who worked in small businesses (Peter was a fisherman, Paul a tent-maker), became followers of Jesus of Nazareth and leaders in the developing Christian church, and both died as martyrs in Rome.
Despite those similarities, though, they were clearly very different men. Peter, it seems, had lived all his life in the family fishing business on the shores of Lake Galilee; Paul had had advanced religious training with the Pharisees in Jerusalem and had become a kind of international envoy for the Jewish leadership. Peter had family and friends, Paul was a bit of a loner. Peter seems not to have had much education or confidence; Paul was well-educated and never lacked confidence. Indeed, as we read the New Testament book the Acts of the Apostles, we discover they had some blazing rows about what it meant to follow Jesus Christ and what the Christian community should be like.
Yet these two very different saints are honoured on the same day because they are two key founding figures of our faith, whom God called to his service and used powerfully in the growth and spread of the church. They remind us that we’re all equally called and wanted by God, even though we may be different in many ways – even though we may disagree with or even dislike some of the other people God is calling, too. St Peter and St Paul remind us that, despite our differences and disagreements, we are all part of the same family, God’s family, and so we have to find ways to get along and work and pray together.
With prayers and best wishes,
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