St Peter and St Paul

PAUL: Is he here, Barnabas?

BARNABAS: He's just coming.

PAUL: I feel as nervous as a bride.

BARNABAS: Why? You've met him before.

PAUL: Yes, in Jerusalem. But now he's coming here to Antioch, where we've founded a new church - I don't know how he'll react. I've never been sure how he feels about our mission to the gentiles.

BARNABAS: I'm sure it'll be fine, Paul. Everything will be fine.

PAUL: He's spent so many years trying to win over the Jews. As regards the gentiles -

BARNABAS: Here he is.

[Enter Peter]

PAUL: Simon Peter, welcome to Antioch. This is a great day. It's such a privelege to have you here, one of the first, one of the original disciples, a man who lived and broke bread side by side with Jesus himself. A man who heard the words of our Lord not at second hand, like myself, but with his own ears. This hand once clasped the living hand of Christ. The whole congregation is desperate to meet you. I feel humble, I feel awestruck.

PETER: Now, now, there's no need for any of that. No need for any speeches or ceremony. I'm a plain man, and we're all brethren. All equals.

PAUL: Your modesty confounds me.

PETER: In any case you and I are old friends, Saul. You came to Jerusalem to help us when there was the famine. There's no need for any ceremony between us.

PAUL: Thanks, Peter, but honour should be paid where it's due. You're the head of Christ's church, the strongest living link we have to Jesus himself -

PETER: Yes, Saul. That's all true. He said I was the rock he would build his church on, that's true as well. I never forget that. But I also never forget that on the night of his arrest I was afraid, I was frightened, I thought I might be arrested and crucified myself, so I denied knowing him. I denied the Messiah. How can I be proud, remembering that?

PAUL: And how can I be proud, knowing that I once stood by and watched as Stephen was stoned to death?

BARNABAS: You were a different man then. You didn't know what you were doing.

PETER: You've risked your own life often enough since then, in the name of Jesus. You've travelled to all parts of the world, and spread the word of Jesus wherever you've gone.

PAUL: But it's something I can never forget.

PETER: Nor should you. I was found wanting once, Saul, and so were you. God forbid that we should ever forget our own weakness. We've been entrusted with a great task, but we're frail vessels to contain the word of God. Only Jesus could carry out that task without faltering. Only Jesus was perfect. And without the help of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we'd soon lose ourselves now.


PAUL: Amen.

PETER: Now, where am I staying, and when do we eat? You're looking at a very hungry man. And I'm eager to meet this congregation of yours, Saul. From what I hear you've done great work in Antioch; you've founded a mighty church.

PAUL: Barnabas will show you to your room. Then once you're washed and a little rested, Peter, we'll all have supper together. Myself and Barnabas, yourself and the brethren you brought with you, and some of the pillars of our church here in Antioch.

BARNABAS: This way, Peter.

PETER: Ah. Just a second, Barnabas. These pillars of your church. Are they Jews?

PAUL: No, Peter, not Jews. At least, to be precise, two of them are Jews, but the other five are gentiles. As you know, here in Antioch we have more gentiles following Christ than we do Jews.

PETER: Of course, of course. I know all about that. But are they circumcised?

PAUL: The Jews are circumcised, Peter.

PETER: Yes, well, of course the Jews are circumcised, man. What about the gentiles?

PAUL: No. No, the gentiles aren't circumcised.

PETER: I see.

BARNABAS: If you'd like to follow me -

PETER: Just a second, Barnabas.

PAUL: Is there a problem?

PETER: I can't sit down to eat with uncircumcised men.

PAUL: Two of them are women.

PETER: Women! Two of them are women! Well - that's another story. Let's deal with one thing at a time. The problem is, I and my brethren can't sit down to eat with uncircumcised men.

PAUL: But the arrangements are all made, Peter. They're probably preparing for the meal as we speak.

PETER: Well, you'll just have to explain to them. I'm sorry, but there it is.

BARNABAS: They'll be so upset. Everyone here has been looking forward to meeting you for such a long time.

PETER: There's no problem about meeting them. I'm happy to meet them. Why don't we just meet up and introduce ourselves, then organise the food separately afterwards?

BARNABAS: I suppose that might work.

PAUL: This is very distressing. They're bound to interpret it as a snub. Put yourself in their shoes, Peter.

PETER: Well, I'm sorry. It's one of those things. I just wish you'd asked me first, Saul.

PAUL: And I wish you'd call me Paul.

PETER: Why, what's the matter with Saul all of a sudden?

PAUL: I just prefer Paul. Never mind. It doesn't really matter.

PETER: Saul's too Jewish for you, I suppose.

PAUL: I just happen to prefer Paul. But it really doesn't matter. Saul's fine. Please forget that I mentioned it.

BARNABAS: All right, so we'll have a meet-up and introductions, then two separate meals afterwards. Is that agreed?

PETER: Well, I think that's the best arrangement.

BARNABAS: I can soon reorganize things. I'll smooth things over. Paul, is that agreed?

PAUL: I don't know.

BARNABAS: You don't know?

PAUL: No, I'm not happy.

PETER: Well, there's no point in sulking, man.

PAUL: Believe me, Peter, the last thing I want is any difficulty between us. I honour you above all men. You are the rock of Christ.


PAUL: But the word of Christ is for all people, and the church here in Antioch is mostly composed of gentiles. You knew that before you came. For years now your mission has been to the Jews, and mine has been to the gentiles. I can appreciate that in Jerusalem and Judaea things are different. Of course they are. But here in Antioch, in Corinth, in Ephesus and Galatia, the bedrock of our teaching is that Christ's word is for all people: in the eyes of Christ all people are the same. Jew and Gentile - the same. The circumcised and the uncircumcised - the same. Everyone has the same chance of salvation, and those who have let Christ into their hearts are all brethren in the eyes of God. And now you come here, Peter - the leader of our church, the man I honour above all others - and the first thing you want to do is separate us into two camps, the Jews and the gentiles. Is that really the message you want to send? That you bring with you division and discord, rather than love and charity?

PETER: But you accept that I'm the head of the church.

PAUL: Yes, I - yes, yes, of course.

PETER: Well, I don't want to pull rank on you.

BARNABAS: There's no need for any discord between us. We can easily smooth things over. We'll have a meet-and-greet first, and separate meals afterwards. After that we can pray for guidance, and discuss it again tomorrow.

PETER: I'll go along with that. But I'm not sure there's anything to discuss.

PAUL: But didn't you understand what I was saying?

PETER: Of course I understood it, Saul. Paul, I mean. I may not have your education, but I'm not stupid.

PAUL: I didn't mean that.

PETER: Look, I'm a Jew. I'm a plain old Jew. I used to be a fisherman, and I'd still go back to fishing now if God would let me. Jesus was Jewish as well: he was the Jewish Messiah. The prophecies foretold him, and then he came. You didn't know him: I knew him. He was the son of God, but he was also a Jewish man. So, forgive me, but I'm Jewish, and I behave like a Jew. I still observe Jewish rules, and so do my brethren. We observe the Passover. We don't eat unclean meat. And we don't sit down to supper with the uncircumcised. That doesn't mean we dislike them or look down on them. It just means we're Jewish, and we observe Jewish customs. Now come on, Barnabas, show me to my room.

BARNABAS: This way, Peter.

[Exit Peter and Barnabas. After a pause, enter Chloe. Paul and Chloe kiss each other.]

PAUL: Greetings, Chloe.

CHLOE: God bless you, Paul. Is he here?

PAUL: Yes, he's here.

CHLOE: Where is he? When can I meet him?

PAUL: He's gone to his room. He'll be back later.

CHLOE: What's the matter?

PAUL: Nothing's the matter.

CHLOE: Come on, Paul. I know you better than that. Something's upset you.

PAUL: He says he won't break bread with the uncircumcised.

CHLOE: Oh! What, you mean he won't have supper with the rest of us? That's a bolt from the blue! Were you expecting that?

PAUL: Of course I wasn't expecting it! Do you think I would have organised a big supper for him on his first night with the best people from our church, if I'd been expecting him to announce that he wouldn't sit down to eat with them?

CHLOE: Well there's no need to take it out on me.

PAUL: I'm not taking it out on you, I'm just - disappointed.

CHLOE: I can see that. What are you going to do?

PAUL: I don't think there's very much I can do. He's the head of the church.

CHLOE: Yes, but you're the head of the church in Antioch.

PAUL: Yes, but he's the head of the church. The whole church. He knew Christ in person. He is the most senior of the disciples. He says he doesn't want to pull rank, but when it comes down to it... Well, there's nothing I can do. In spite of the fact that on this particular issue he's completely in the wrong.

CHLOE: Perhaps he'll think it over, and think better of it. Perhaps God will give him guidance.

PAUL: Perhaps.

CHLOE: Well, don't discount the idea. People do have changes of heart. The Holy Spirit speaks to them. You had a change of heart yourself, on the road to Damascus.

PAUL: That's true, of course. I'll pray, and I'm sure he will pray, and perhaps God will send us both guidance.

CHLOE: And he's a good man, isn't he?

PAUL: Yes, Chloe, he's a good man, he's the best of men - but he's also stubborn and impetuous, and with the best will in the world he's rather ignorant. He says himself, he was a fisherman before Jesus found him. He never fails to mention it, in fact. And he never fails to mention that Jesus called him his rock, or that he betrayed Jesus on the night of his arrest. This is the thing about him. He's not stupid, he's an intelligent man, an articulate man, a powerful thinker in his own way, but he's got a few deeply-embedded ideas and he reverts to them over and over again. When I went to visit him in Jerusalem, it was just the same: I don't think his opinions have changed by a jot or tittle since I saw him last. Perhaps that's what Jesus meant about him being like a rock. If he'd ever gone to debate with the philosophers in Greece, the way I did, he wouldn't have sought for ways to persuade them, he would have flatly told them they were wrong, probably shouted at them, probably lost him temper with them, and probably ended up by being stoned.

CHLOE: Just as well that God sent you, then, rather than him.

PAUL: Yes, just as well. But look, Chloe, this is the heart of the matter. Our task is to prepare the people of the earth for the second coming of Christ and the Day of Judgement. Christ told us to spread his word to all the peoples and all the nations of the earth, and then he would come again, and he would bring with him the Kingdom of God. So that's what I've been trying to do. While Peter has been in Judaea banging his head against a brick wall with the Jews, I've been travelling from land to land, winning converts and establishing churches. His mission has been to the Jews, and mine has been to the gentiles. And what I've learnt, which perhaps he hasn't, is that the way to spread the gospel to all nations is to treat all men as equals. Forget distinctions between different races and their ways of life. The way forward is inclusiveness. The Jews are never going to accept Jesus as their Messiah. Some of them will, but most of them won't. If we wait for that to happen, we'll be waiting forever. But if we take the word of Jesus to all the nations, welcoming all who receive the Holy Ghost into their hearts, then the Kingdom of God will come soon, hopefully very soon.

CHLOE: But if Peter comes to Antioch and overrules you, and won't let the circumcised sit down to supper with the uncircumcised...

PAUL: Then it's a problem. It's a backward step. We might as well rename Antioch "Little Jerusalem".

CHLOE: But I'm sure things will work themselves out, Paul. We're all followers of Jesus, and we're all people of good will.

PAUL: Let's hope so.

CHLOE: The others will be arriving by now.

PAUL: All right, let's go and find them.

[Exit Paul and Chloe. After a pause, enter Peter and Barnabus.]

PETER: He talks about his mission being to the gentiles, and mine being to the Jews, as if that was an established fact. But that was all his idea in the first place: it was never mine. Just because I've been stuck in Jerusalem all these years doesn't mean I don't know how to talk to foreigners. We get plenty of foreigners in Jerusalem, you know.

BARNABUS: Yes, of course you do.

PETER: On the Pentecost after Jesus was crucified, the Holy Spirit descended on us in tongues of flame, and we went out and spoke to the people in their own languages.

BARNABUS: Yes, I've heard the story.

PETER: Parthians, Phrygians, Egyptians, Arabians, and Romans - they all heard us talking to them in their own native tongues. They were all amazed, although some mocked us and thought we were full of wine.

BARNABUS: Yes, so I've heard.

PETER: So he's got nothing to tell me about how to spread the word to other nations, even if he has been all round the world.

BARNABUS: No, of course not.

PETER: Nobody doubts his courage or his tenacity. Or his commitment to the word of God. You've travelled with him.

BARNABUS: Yes, I've been all round the world with him.

PETER: He's probably made more converts than I've had hot dinners.

BARNABUS: He has done great work for the Lord.

PETER: Yes, I'm sure he has. And he probably thinks I'm a stay-at-home old fogey.

BARNABUS: Peter, when he says he honours you above all other men, he means precisely what he says.

PETER: Oh, I daresay. I honoured my father above all other men, too, but I still thought he was an old fogey. He was an old fogey, as a matter of fact.

BARNABAS: Paul doesn't think you're an old fogey.

PETER: Well, he'd better not. Because whatever he thinks, I'm the one that Jesus left in charge. He told me I was the rock on which his church would be built, and I never forget that. You've probably noticed that I don't let other people forget it, either.

BARNABAS: Nobody doubts your authority, Peter.

PETER: Hm. So you say. Maybe I've let Saul have his head for too long. Because to some people it looks as if he's split the church in two, and he's left me to look after the Jewish branch, while he takes control of all the rest.

BARNABAS: I can assure you that he is always at pains to emphasise the importance of unity. Perhaps you're not aware of his letters. Recently he heard from Corinth that some of the church-members there were calling themselves followers of Peter, while others were calling themselves followers of Paul, and others again were calling themselves followers of Jesus. And he wrote to rebuke them, to say that we are all followers of Jesus.

PETER: Quite right, quite right.

BARNABAS: So you see...

PETER: Yes, I see your point, Barnabas. And believe it or not, I can see Saul's point of view as well. He's a more educated man than I am. He was brought up in Tarsus, so all his life he's been used to intellectual debate, and mingling with people of other creeds and other races. So it comes natural to him to want to carry the word of God to other nations. Perhaps he thinks of the Jews as narrow-minded and obstinate. Perhaps he thinks they'll never accept that Jesus was the Messiah.

BARNABAS: I don't believe for a moment...

PETER: The thing is, he's probably right.

BARNABAS: Oh? But I thought your view -

PETER: Don't misunderstand me, Barnabas. Strategically, he seems to have found a good path to follow. He's already demonstrated that the teachings of Jesus find willing listeners in other countries all around the world. Look at the success he's had in making converts and establishing new churches. It's phenomenal.

BARNABAS: Not for his own glory, Peter. He always works for the glory of Christ. And he says himself, he wouldn't have achieved those things if it hadn't been God's will.

PETER: Yes, yes, of course. But just because his approach has been successful, that doesn't mean it's the right one. If you detach the teachings of Jesus from the Jewish tradition, you make them easier for other people to understand, but you also change them completely. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. The Jews may not want to accept him, but that's what he was. You can only understand him properly if you understand Moses, Elisha, Isaiah and the whole tradition. You can only understand him if you recognise that the Jews are God's chosen people, they are God's gift to the nations, and Jesus makes that gift complete.

BARNABAS: Yes, of course.

PETER: Take his Jewishness out of the picture, and what are you left with? It doesn't just water down his message. It doesn't just uproot him from his tradition. It's worse than that. Something frightening starts to happen, Barnabas. The Jews don't disappear from his story. But their significance is turned upside-down. They become the evil nation who hated him and wanted him dead. They become targets for people's loathing and resentment. There are signs of it already.

BARNABAS: No, I don't believe that.

PETER: Are you saying that nobody in the church blames the Jews for crucifying Jesus? Don't tell me lies, Barnabas, because I know the truth. The Jews have always been easy targets. They insist too loudly on their own separateness. Let people forget that Jesus was a Jew, take his story to the other nations and tell it from a non-Jewish point of view, and before you know it the Jews become the villains, the hate figures, ripe for persecution.

BARNABAS: But Jesus teaches us to love one another, not to hate.

PETER: Yes, Barnabas, so he does. Of course he does.

[Enter Paul and Chloe.]

PAUL: Peter, the representatives from the Church of Antioch are all here now. Will you come and meet them?

PETER: Of course, Paul. I hope you've explained my tiresome old-fashioned scruples to them?

PAUL: Yes, yes, I've explained everything. They understand. They weren't too upset.

PETER: There you are, then. And who is this?

PAUL: This is Chloe, one of the elders of the church.

PETER: A woman?

PAUL: Yes, Peter, a woman, as you can see.

PETER: Well, that's another conversation we'll have to have. But save it for another day. I'm delighted to meet you, Chloe.

BARNABAS: This way, Peter.

[Barnabas and Peter go out.]

PAUL: Actually, they were upset, very upset, but we managed to calm them down.

CHLOE: I managed to calm them down, you mean. Women are much more sensible than men in these situations.

PAUL: Well we won't be enjoying that benefit for much longer, by the look of things. Peter has already made it plain that he doesn't think women should hold positions of authority within the church. So that's another confrontation lying in wait for us.

CHLOE: Worry about that when the time comes, Paul. Let's just take one step at a time.

PAUL: I don't know, Chloe. I don't know if I can stand by and watch everything I've built up being knocked down again. Now that Peter's here, and wants to do everything his own way, perhaps I should just get out of his path. And maybe it's time I was moving on in any case. Antioch's a fine place, but it's hardly the centre of the civilized world. I've been thinking about a mission to Rome.

CHLOE: Oh, Paul - and you say Peter's the impetuous one! He's only been here five minutes, and already you're thinking of leaving!

PAUL: Well, we'll see how things turn out. But Rome is the centre of the civilised world. If you plant a seed in Rome, it will bear fruit in every other country. And God chose me for a traveller, not a governor. In some ways I'm happiest when I'm on the move. I'd rather be out there breaking new ground than stuck here arguing with Peter.

CHLOE: Then don't argue with him. Just do as he says now, and seek to persuade him later on, when you get the chance.

PAUL: That's what you and Barnabas would do. But I'm not like that: I can't pretend to agree with something if I know it's wrong.

CHLOE: You mean you prefer to be the one in charge. You're too used to having everything your own way. There have been plenty of times when I've disagreed with you, but kept my counsel.

PAUL: Have there?

CHLOE: Certainly there have. You and Peter are very much alike, it seems to me: two pig-headed men, each wanting his own way. Is this what the church of Jesus is going to be like? Men with obdurate minds, confronting each other and refusing to compromise?

PAUL: No, of course not.

CHLOE: Then let's go and talk to Peter.

PAUL: Yes, let's do that.