10 Aug 2008
“Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.” (Matt. 15:29)
Fr. Randy Calvo
In the name …
When we were at the Youth Convo a few weeks back, a professional motivational speaker was hired to come and talk to the kids. He spoke to them about having respect for others and also for one’s self. He tried to encourage them to more self-confident and less self-conscious. That’s a hard sell to any audience, and especially to one full of teenagers. Peer pressure is huge at that age. He demonstrated that fact by asking the kids to do something unexpected and potentially foolish. I can’t remember if it was clapping hands, shouting out something, but it was some act that if done alone could have been terribly embarrassing in an auditorium full of other teenagers. Then after the kids followed through half-heartedly, he pointed out one of the teenagers who had followed through but first looked at his friends on either side of him to make sure they were doing it too. The kid didn’t want to be all alone in following this silly direction.
Then the speaker made sure everyone followed along with his directions by saying that he was just crazy enough to invite the ones who didn’t join in, to come down in front with him so that they could do it in front of everyone else. The fear of being singled out, of not being able to look to your right and left to make sure others are doing the same thing, was absolutely sufficient to motivate everyone in the room to do something potentially embarrassing. The fear of being embarrassed alone was far greater than the fear of being embarrassed with a whole bunch of others too. He used this direct experience to reinforce his message to be more self-confident and less-conscious. We always seem to be worried about what others are going to think even if it’s something as inconsequential as clapping your hands in the middle of an auditorium. So he asked the kids to realize how hard it is to stand alone for something important. That’s why it takes courage and conviction to act first, to act alone, to think independently.
The guy’s talk was not specifically religious in nature. I bet he’s given the same talk with a few changes here or there in hundreds of places, for hundreds of different groups. If it were a specifically religious talk, he would have had to mention today’s Gospel selection. But then again, maybe not. It all depends on where our attention falls and lands. Towards the end of the account there’s the comforting story of Jesus reaching out His hand and pulling Peter up from the waters, but it’s accompanied by those unfair sounding words: “‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” Peter took the initiative to act. He didn’t look around him at what the others were doing. He knew there was the possibility of failure and embarrassment. But he acted anyway because of his faith in Jesus. Then, however, there are those words of Jesus. They could almost reinforce that whole natural tendency to be self-conscious rather than self-confident. They seem to not praise the effort, but to ridicule it.
But is that really the purpose of Jesus’ words? Along with Peter’s willingness to act on his faith, alone on his faith, are also Jesus’ amazingly high expectations. Peter says to Jesus, “‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’” Jesus doesn’t warn him off. Jesus doesn’t rush into the boat so that Peter doesn’t try something stupid. Jesus says to him, “‘Come.’” His expectations of Peter’s faith are amazingly high, and they prove reasonable. Peter actually walks on the water. Then Peter’s faith slackens, and as soon as that happens he begins to sink and drown. Jesus is there to rescue him, and as He pulls the disciple out of the water His words “Why did you doubt?” seem not to admonish him but to shore him up: “Why’d you doubt? You were doing it!”
They both get into the boat, the storm ends immediately. All are now safe. The other disciples have a newfound awareness of Jesus’ authority and identity, but Peter, and Peter alone has shown Jesus something about himself. He may not be perfect. He is not infallible. But he will try. He will act, and if need be he will act alone. Peter is self-confident much more so than he is self-conscious. He didn’t get back into that boat a failure. He had done the impossible, if only for a while, but he had done the impossible. And Jesus acknowledges this. Before this story, Peter is only mentioned in the account of his being called to discipleship and then as one of the named Twelve Disciples. After this story, however, Peter is mentioned 19 times. He has shown Jesus a willingness to act on the convictions of his faith, not looking at what others are doing, but only looking toward Jesus.
In our world, in our daily lives, to do what is morally right, to act on our faith, is more often than not going to require us to possibly act alone, or at least to act first. Like we found at Convo, our first reaction is to look around us to see what others are doing. That’s not enough when it comes to practicing our faith. We have to be like Peter. Take the initiative. Take the chance. Jesus has high expectations of us. Get out of the boat and try. The others sitting in the boat may not believe what you’re doing, but more importantly, you will. Get out of the boat and try. Don’t be satisfied with a faith that proverbially sits in the boat, that isn’t challenged by the faith. Jesus is out on the water and He says, “Come.” Don’t wait for the other 11. Go!
Don’t sit through Mass, participate. Don’t just say the Our Father, talk to Jesus. Don’t be easily satisfied. If something bothers you, try to fix it. Our world can be callous, Christians can’t be. Don’t make excuses, make a commitment. Be different like our faith in Jesus asks us to be different. Jesus is out there saying “Come.” He’ll eventually get into the boat, but why wait? That we may accept Jesus’ challenge to act and to lead, to be the first, to be different, to be confident, for this we pray in the name of the one who calls us to “Come,” in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)