“I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”
How many of us have felt like Paul does here in this Sunday’s second reading (2 tm 4:6-8, 17-18)? We come to the end of a particularly trying work day—or week—and we just want to retire. On top of that we’re faced with family responsibilities. Bills. Deadlines. Disagreements. We dread what will happen the next day and wish it could all be over. Our strength is gone, poured out like a libation, as Paul says. That’s an apt term for our mood when everything seems to come crashing down. A libation is a ritual pouring of a liquid, as a sacrifice to God.
Then with all the breath we can muster, we pray for strength; and somehow our empty cup is refilled. The same happened for Paul at key times. He knew his job wasn’t finished yet and so did God.
“The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth,” he concluded.
Peter also found himself in dire straits at various times. In Sunday’s first reading (acts 12:1-11) his life is on the line. He’s Herod’s prisoner and his fate doesn’t look promising—until God sends an angel to rescue him.
“He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ The chains fell from his wrists.
The angel said to him, ‘Put on your belt and your sandals.’ … So he followed him out … they passed the first guard, then the second, and came to the iron gate leading out to the city, which opened for them by itself. … Then Peter recovered his senses and said, ‘Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod.’”
Just as Paul was rescued from the lion’s mouth, Peter was repeatedly pulled out of tough situations because he still had work to do. His libation cup was not yet empty. There was more for him to drink. This was a cup that every follower of Christ shares. Sharing this libation is a great honor, but it comes with great responsibility. This reminds me of the reading from Matthew 20, where the mother of Zebedee’s sons asks Jesus to grant that they may sit on either side of him in his kingdom.
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
One of those places belonged to Peter, as shown in this Sunday’s gospel reading, which is an earlier passage from Matthew (mt 16:13-19). Jesus asks him “who do you say that I am?” he replies:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.”
We are blessed to live in this abode which Christ planned and for which Peter and Paul laid the foundation. As tenants we are responsible for its upkeep so it may continue to shelter our children and theirs. Our strength for this task comes from the bottomless well of faith our creator installed deep within each of us. We are called to drink from it and to pour it out like a libation for our families.