There’s a very interesting phrase that occurs in both of the readings this morning. Twice in the first reading from Acts, the Christians at Lydda are called “holy ones”: “Peter went down to the holy ones living in Lydda”; and again, “when he had called the holy ones”. The same word in Greek is used in the Gospel by the same Peter in addressing Jesus: “You are the Holy One of God”. In both cases, the word used is the Greek word hagios. It is usually translated “holy”, as it is in today’s readings. But the root meaning of it is “different”. It describes something which is different from the ordinary run of things. Therefore, basically, the Holy One is Someone who is different, and the holy ones are those who are different from the people of the world.
But what is the difference? This word hagios was originally used to describe the people of Israel. They are specifically a holy people, a different people. Their difference lies in the fact that of all the nations God chose them to be his people and to do his work, to be holy as God is holy.
In the Gospel, Peter recognizes Jesus as someone who does not simply share in holiness; he is the source of holiness. Peter calls Jesus ha-Kadosh, baruch Hu: the Holy One, blessed be He. By baptism into the Holy One of God, Christians become the people of God who are different. That is why the reading from Acts uses the phrase “holy ones” to describe the members of the Church at Lydda: they are people who are different. And their difference lies in the fact that they are chosen for the special purpose of God. We are different in that we are chosen for a special task and a special service.
St John Henry Newman said it well: “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission.” And If we’re at all like Peter, we will have our weaknesses and failures. But the solution to our own weakness is not to fall into the same mistakes that Peter fell into preceding his denial – he slept instead of staying awake to watch and pray; he followed Jesus “at a distance”, and just prior to denying Jesus he was warming himself at a fire. Lack of prayer, staying some distance from Jesus, and lack of mortification all preceded Peter’s denial.
Almost certainly they precede our own denials and failures also.
But if we do fall in some way, let us at least avoid the mistake of Judas, who despaired of God’s endless mercy. After his fall Peter repented and found pardon and grace. Judas also repented, but his repentance degenerated into desperation and thus became self-destructive. For us it is an invitation always to remember
what St Benedict says at the end of the fundamental Chapter Four of his “Rule”: “Never despair of God’s mercy”, but go back to doing what God created you to do.