In the Acts, Luke is writing the remarkable account of the expansion of Christianity and the development of the church; and this is despite external opposition, even persecution, and their leaders’ inadequacies and failings. The story is built around the two different characters in the early church of Peter and Paul. Whereas Peter was a headstrong, simple Galilean Jewish fisherman who followed Jesus throughout His public ministry, Paul was a well educated Jew and Roman citizen living outside of the Jewish territory, who after a brief encounter with Jesus turned from antagonism to christians to be come an apostle to the Gentiles. The phrase “in those days” at the beginning of today’s reading, alludes to the time when the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and the surrounding area expanded and even included followers of Jesus’ Way who were not Jews – they were Samaritans or even Gentiles. It was this expansion that began to cause disturbances in Jerusalem. Herod, the local ruler, wanted to keep the peace in order to retain favour within the Roman empire, and so began to arrest the Jewish Christian leaders who were the source of the trouble. So our reading concerns the imprisonment of Peter; it was during the feast of unleavened Bread – a sacred time in Jerusalem – so he would be executed after the Passover, as James had been earlier. The story of his escape was passed down by word of mouth – and with significant elaboration – that is what is related here by Luke. This is a good story illustrating how faith can lead us into difficulties and yet God can save us; and there is a delightful incident about Rhoda (in our language Rose) which follows our reading which you might like to read here.
The two letters to Timothy and the one to Titus are together called the pastoral epistles. They may well date from about the year 100 AD at a time when the organisation of the body of Christians was developing and the difficulties of admitting Gentiles and the like were overcome. But at that time part of the difficulty was the distance in time since Jesus, and even since the time of the disciples who knew him. So these letters are about life and practice in this later church. But the letters do include some passages that seem most likely to come from Paul himself, and our reading today is from one of these sections. In the first paragraph Paul writes about himself in later life as he looks back on the devoted life that he has led and looks forward to his expected reward like that of all who work for the fullness of coming of Christ on earth. The second paragraph in the original begins with a “But” because the text tells of the loneliness and difficult situation of Paul – even being unsupported when taken to court – which explains the ‘but’ before our second paragraph. On this feast of Peter and Paul, this reading shows Paul as a saint in the sense of the word, someone that we would do well to emulate; we should be pouring out our lives for God’s work and confident that the Lord is with us even at difficult times and that we shall eventually get our reward.
Peter acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah is told in the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). But Matthew, which we read today, adds a commissioning of Peter to be a leader of the church. This may be because the churches for which Matthew is particularly writing had a special respect for Peter their founder and leader for a time. He is called a rock, which is what Peter means. Nevertheless he also was the most headstrong disciple who so often let Jesus down. This is why he is an admiral saint – someone we can look to emulate in some way because even when we mess things up we can be sorry, be forgiven and still go on to do good things. He was eventually executed for his faith in Rome. Catholics particularly view him as the first overall leader of the Church worldwide – a Pope.
See Jeffs Jottings on Angels