Peter, Paul and the messiness of Christian discipleship

Peter, Paul and the messiness of Christian discipleship Sts Peter and Paul

We all like things neat, uncomplicated and in good order. But as we step over the threshold into the virtual world created by artificial intelligence, it seems to me that inclination may be more problematic than ever.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a number of images circulating on social media. A baby dolphin, a 1901 photograph of a family with 18 children, two little boys of different races enjoying friendship: nothing controversial. The response to these images is almost universally positive. That’s because the images are created to be universally appealing.

The problem is that these images aren’t real. They are created by AI. What’s the big deal? More and more people are becoming unable to tell the difference between what is real and what isn’t. Even worse, we seem to be developing a preference for flawless and beautiful images over messy and imperfect reality. I’m grateful that God does not.


At the end of June, the Church commemorates her two most influential (and flawed) leaders: Sts Peter and Paul. The irony of a shared feast day shouldn’t be lost on us. Despite the similarity of how their lives ended, both Peter and Paul had their issues.

Simon walked on water, but then sank. He proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God, then cautioned him against going to Jerusalem. Swearing he would remain loyal even if no one else did, within hours, Peter denied Jesus not once, but three times. He was anything but the ‘rock’ Jesus had called him to be – not exactly a firm foundation on which to build the Church.

These two men could not have been more different from each other. Simon was not well educated, and Saul was a scholar”

In his zeal for Jewish law, Saul orchestrated the stoning of Stephen. He was ambitious and intent on rooting out members of this dangerous new Messianic cult. He was a man with a mission, en route to Damascus to arrest wayward Jews and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. That was interrupted when Jesus appeared to him. Poor Ananias must have been terrified when God sent him to minister to Saul. It’s no wonder Paul was not readily trusted by those who were following the way.

These two men could not have been more different from each other. Simon was not well educated, and Saul was a scholar who had studied under one of the most esteemed rabbis in Jerusalem. Simon was brash and impetuous, often jumping into things mouth first. Saul was calculating and deliberative, carefully planning his next move. Simon lived in Galilee, a crossroad of cultural and religious diversity. Saul grew up in Tarsus, exposed to the full force of Greek learning and achievement and its effect on Jewish thought.

Simon and Saul also came to faith in Christ in entirely different ways. Simon’s discipleship grew organically and over time. He became ‘Peter’ slowly. In contrast, Saul was struck blind by an unexpected mystical encounter. When he regained his sight, he was ‘Paul’, suddenly part of a community he had considered heretical.


But Peter and Paul were not homogenised by Christ. Their profound differences remained even after their entire lives were personally redirected by Jesus of Nazareth. We see this in the Acts of the Apostles. While Luke acknowledges each man’s total commitment to the Gospel, he does not gloss over the tension between them or ignore the difficulty they both experienced during a significant dispute. Yet, in Christ Jesus, these two unlikely companions were brought together. So much so that iconographic tradition often depicts them embracing.

Perhaps this kind of unity was possible because below the surface, these giants of the early Church shared something else in common. Both were very broken men. Both had, what we call, a checkered past.

As Catholics, it’s important for us to remember that God sees our sin and brokenness. He knows our failures and fears. And he chooses the real us – not an idealised image of us – nonetheless. God risks everything on each one of us because there is nothing Jesus Christ can’t redeem. No one is beyond the power of God’s transforming grace. Simons and Sauls can become Peters and Pauls not just in appearance, but in truth.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a sinner, Catholic convert, freelance writer and editor, musician, speaker, pet-aholic, wife and mom of eight grown children, loving life in New Orleans.