Peter, Paul and Mary
You may recall these folk singers from the 60s. If the name doesn't ring a bell maybe these tunes will jog your memory: "Blowin' in the Wind," "If I Had a Hammer," "Leaving on a Jet Plane," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone,"and "500 Miles." They had 13 Top 40 hits and amassded a loyal following. Their music often carried a message of humanity, hope and activism.
The names Peter, Paul and Mary should evoke memories for Christians in another context. Except for Jesus, no other names in the New Testament have more significance. Peter is the disciple, the Rock on which Jesus would build his church. Matthew 16:18. The Apostle Paul was chosen by Jesus to "bring my message to the Gentiles". Acts 9:15. There were three Marys that were critically important to the Christian faith: Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene and Mary, sister of Lazarus. Let us look more closely at these icons of our faith.
Peter and Paul
These two very different men, chosen by Jesus, shows how the Lord selects people for his purposes. Digging deeper.
- Education. Peter was a fisherman, a rough and tumble guy. It is likely that he spoke neither Greek or Hebrew, probably only Aramaic. It is thought by some that the Book of Mark is really by Peter as told to Mark. Paul was a Rabbinic scholar, a Pharisee, who studied under Gamaliel, a famous and respected teacher. Paul spoke Greek and Aramaic and probably Hebrew.
- Background. Peter was from Galilee, Paul from Tarsus in far away Cilicia. Peter's circle of friends were common people. Paul's were scholars.
- Life with Jesus. Peter was a disciple of Jesus, one of the twelve. Paul knew Jesus only by reputation.
Some similarties between the two should be noted.
- Name. Jesus told Simon that he would henceforth be called Peter, or Cephas, meaning Rock. Paul was a Roman name, Saul a Hebrew name, so dual names for him. After Acts 13, he is always referred to as "Paul", as he travelled farther into the Gentile world. Notable name changes in the Old Testament were Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel. Can we see where these new names carried particular significance to God's plan for his people?
- Last days. Although their travels took them in very different directions, both spent their final days in Rome, nurturing the fledging Christian communities there. It is believed that they were executed one day apart. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified, upside down at his request. Rome would eventually become the center of Christianity in the first millenium. Peter is regarded as the first Pope of the Catholic Church.
- Unlikely choices. After the resurrection, Peter was ashamed that he had denied Jesus three times and was set to return to his fishing occupation. Jesus sought him out to make sure he knew he was forgiven. Paul was confronted for his persecution of followers of Jesus on the road to Damascus in a thrilling story of conversion.
Mary, Mary and Mary
The Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, her Immaculate Conception, and care for the Christ child are familiar and beloved stories known to all. Mary was mentioned several times in scripture including her presence at the Crucifixion. The "other" Marys were not so well known to us.
Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus, was a friend of Jesus who with his disciples visited their home several times. On one occasion, she showed her devotion by anointing Jesus' head and feet with costly ointment and wiping his feet with her hair (John 12:3). Her act would be remembered (Matt 26:6-13;Mark 14:3-9), as one of love and as a preparation for his coming death (John 12:7-8). Her brother Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus, after being in a tomb for four days. Before this took place, Jesus prayed, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me".” (John 11:41–42).
Mary Magdalene was a Jewish woman from Magdala, a town on the Sea of Galilee. Conflicting stories exist but it appears that she was cured of a disease (removal of demons) by Jesus and devoted her life to him after that event. She and Jesus' mother were present at the Crucifixion. According to the gospel of Mark, "the other Mary" mentioned as also being there was the mother of James, not Mary of Bethany.
On the third day, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, where Jesus appeared to her. The risen Jesus thus appeared, not to rulers and kings, nor even first of all to his male disciples, but to a woman whose love had held her at the cross and led her to the grave. Mary Magdalene, a person who had been afflicted by demons, whose testimony would not have held up in court because she was a woman, was The First Witness of the resurrection.