When we think about the witness of St. Peter or St. Paul, it’s easy to say “I could never do that. They were rock star disciples. I’m too weak.” Because of our weakness and sins, we question our ability to be good disciples.
So many people are in marriages that are strained or broken. Others become weary as they battle sexual sins like porn or sex outside of marriage. Others find themselves caught up in gossip at school or work. Still others feel hopeless because of the sexual abuse scandal in the Church. We can become discouraged before our sin and be tempted to give up on being disciples. The temptation is to give up on daily prayer, to give up on having a pure heart, to give up on forgiveness, or to doubt that God is guiding the Church.
However, it is precisely weak sinners who become strong disciples. After the huge catch of fish, Peter knelt before Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8). Paul said, “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9). Being a sinner did not prevent them from being disciples. Rather, God often uses sinners to be the best disciples.
The first lesson about discipleship: What matters is not how sinful we are, but that grace is greater than our worst sin. Paul says, “By the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace has not been ineffective in me.” (1 Cor. 15:10). In his letter to the Romans, Paul describes how the sin of Adam has spread through the whole human race. Then he says, “But however much sin increased, grace was always greater” (Rom. 5:20). Do you believe that? “However much sin increased, grace was always greater.” One of the most frequent temptations is to doubt the power of grace. That happens when a person feels that he or she can never overcome a particular sin, or when we give up on the pervasiveness of sin in society.
Paul learned that God’s grace was so much greater than his sins. It is greater than all sin. No matter how weak or sinful you feel today, be open to God’s grace. What matters is not how sinful we are, but that grace is greater than our worst sin — and that we open ourselves to God’s grace.
The second lesson about being a disciple: Listen to the Word. Christ will challenge you to go deeper. When Peter was worn out from working all night long, Jesus said, “Put out into the deep” (Lk. 5:4). Peter’s life was turned upside down because he listened to Jesus’ Word
At first he is casually listening in as a bystander. Jesus is preaching by the shore while Peter is washing his nets. Then Jesus takes it one step further. He steps into Peter’s boat and asks him to put out a short distance, then continues to teach. Peter must have been listening to what he was saying while he was working, sort of like listening to a good CD while driving a car.
Finally, Jesus speaks directly to Peter. He says, “Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch.” He and his partners have been fishing all night long. They’re tired. They want to clean their nets and go home. So Peter must have been at least a little annoyed. You can hear both exhaustion and trust as Peter says, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command (literally, “at your word”) I will lower the nets” (Lk. 5:5). Night was the best time for fishing; any fishermen knew that. Yet, Peter listens to Jesus, and acts on his words.
How many times are we worn out from a long day and don’t feel like praying? How often does a repeated sin dishearten us and we give up on God’s mercy? Especially then, take the time to read a little bit of the Gospel. Or pray over a psalm. Listen to these words from today’s psalm that speak to a weary heart: “Your right hand saves me. . . . your kindness, O Lord, endures forever; forsake not the work of your hands” (Ps. 138:7-8).
Peter was not a great disciple because he was sinless, but because he listened to Jesus’ Word, especially the words of mercy. After his triple denial, he remembered Jesus’ words, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times” (Lk. 22:61). Yet he also remember how Jesus had assured Peter that he would pray for him that his faith would not fail. Then after the resurrection Jesus nudged Peter’s heart with his mercy by asking him three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (Jn. 21:15). Jesus’ challenging and merciful words made him a great disciple.
Take two minutes to read the Gospel again. Listen especially to Jesus words to Peter. How is he encouraging you or challenging you as his disciple?