It seems that God couldn’t have chosen two people more different in background for his ministry than Simon (Peter), an uneducated fisherman, who led a fairly uneventful and quiet life, and Saul (Paul), who had the very best of education, trained in some of the finest Jewish schools, and who led a life of “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9.1).”
Both of these men eventually went on to share some significant commonalities. Both became great apostles, very passionate about their mission, fearless, both were persecuted and eventually martyred.
The key experience that transformed them into these notable apostles was an intense, life-altering encounter with Jesus.
For Simon, it happened when he was with his friends, having worked all night long and not caught any fish. At this point he sees Jesus who tells him to set the nets down once more. It’s not his first encounter with Jesus. He’s seen him before, preaching to the crowds. But this time it’s different. This time, Simon really recognizes Jesus as God, in no small measure thanks to the massive hall of fish they catch after following Jesus’ instructions.
Simon’s immediate response “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5.8) speaks volumes about feeling unworthy to be in the presence of God. It is in this moment of genuine recognition of Jesus, that Jesus invites Simon to a most profound mission of spreading the good news of the Gospel.
Saul’s experience of Christ is more dramatic: a light from heaven flashed before him, he fell to the ground, heard a divine voice, went blind for three days. As dramatic as his encounter with Christ has been, his inner conversion was also radical. With the help of Annanias’ prayer, Saul’s eyes are healed, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and he becomes one of the most zealous disciples of the Lord.
Today, Simon and Saul are known as St. Peter and St. Paul, respectively – two of the greatest apostles who ever lived. Their lives attest to the fact that God works in surprising ways. God was able to transform each of these men from their humble beginning and sinful life, to a life on fire to share the love of God.
If we are open to God’s transformation, he can use us in the greatest of ways. All too often we come across biographies of various saints with a spotless background. I have read numerous such biographies where I felt the author went above and beyond at presenting the saint in question in the most angelic ways possible. But while a life of virtue is something for all of us to strive for, I felt that these authors failed to present an authentic human being with all its limitations and failures. Who are you more inclined to be inspired by – someone who fell, got up and tried again, or someone who walked without a wobble?
Natalia Kononenko, Editor, Living with Christ