Saints Peter and Paul were dangerous men. That seems like an exaggeration, doesn't it? We don't tend to associate the word “dangerous” with these two, but to the Jews and the Romans, they were at the top of the most wanted list. Why? Peter and Paul were turning society upside down by openly preaching and spreading the Christian faith, and the Jews and Romans didn't like it one bit.
We find evidence of this in today's First Reading. Peter's fellow apostle James had just been martyred by King Herod, who saw the Christians as a severe threat to his power. Herod captured Peter, too, but he didn't kill him immediately. Perhaps he wanted to question him or maybe even torture him, and he certainly intended to bring him before the people at Passover, probably hoping for a repeat performance of Jesus' condemnation and crucifixion.
Herod made sure that Peter was securely held in prison, under the guard of sixteen soldiers, firmly fastened with two sets of chains, and even forced to sleep between two of his guards. What did Herod expect Peter to do? Break out? Start a rampage? He clearly thought that the fisherman-turned-preacher was a dangerous threat and an escape risk.
Peter proved Herod right, at least as far as escaping was concerned. In the middle of the night, Peter awoke to find an angel in his cell. The angel told him to get up, and the chains fell from Peter's wrists. The soldiers remained soundly asleep while Peter put on his belt, sandals, and cloak and the angel guided him out of the prison and through the city. Peter thought that perhaps the whole thing was a vision, but as soon as he was safely outside the city, the angel left him, and Peter realized that he was actually free. This “dangerous” man had escaped, and Herod would be awfully surprised in the morning.
Paul, too, was no stranger to incarceration. The Jews and the Romans also considered him a dangerous man and a menace to their way of life and their beliefs. That didn't seem to bother Paul at all. Today's Second Reading, which is part of a letter Paul wrote to Timothy, acknowledges that God had rescued him from evil threats many times and given him the strength to cope with anything the world might throw at him. In another letter, he had specifically listed all his hardships, which included flogging, stoning, shipwreck, and danger everywhere.
Now, however, Paul realized that his situation was especially precarious. He was imprisoned in Rome, awaiting his fate. He was chained in a dungeon, and he realized that his life was nearly at an end. He told Timothy that he was being poured out like a libation, a sacrifice to God, and he was ready to leave this world. His job was nearly finished. He had kept the faith. In the midst of all his trials, he had proclaimed the Gospel and remained a dangerous threat to his opponents. He had done his job.
Peter and Paul were both martyred at Rome in the 60s A.D. Paul, as a Roman citizen, was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down. Both men faced their deaths with courage and prayer, knowing that they were dying for Jesus Christ. They also had confidence that the Gospel message they had so faithfully proclaimed would continue to spread. No human being could stop it. Their enemies may have finally disposed of them, but the danger remained. These dangerous men, Peter and Paul, were accompanied and would be followed by many other Christians who would continue to challenge and frighten the whole world.