Today’s gospel is the incredible story of Peter beginning to walk on water only to become afraid at the first gust of wind and begin to sink until Jesus catches him (and presumably rolls his eyes).
There’s a little bit of Peter in each one of us.
Fr. James Keenan, SJ, a great author and an old friend from Fordham once told me the story of one of his classes where he asked a group of High School boys what would be the “proper” reaction if they had thrown a no-hitter and then a respected adult came up to them and told them how great an accomplishment it was.
One young man provided the answer that Fr. Keenan suspected that they’d say.
“Oh go on! It wasn’t THAT good.”
“The proper response,” said Fr. Keenan, “is ‘Thank you!'”
I never forgot that story and it’s always helped me be gracious and help in building self-esteem. Many of our first reactions to praise is an unnecessary humbleness. For some, it may also be an inflated grandiosity as well.
The truth is that God thinks we all walk on water. We all can be Peter. In fact, it would be shameful if we were not “at least Peter.” Because Peter always fails the test, at least the first time out. At one point Jesus reveals his new name “Rock” to him which doesn’t just mean a firm foundation. Some say that he may have meant it sarcastically, and that he was saying that Peter “had rocks in his head!”
Still he built this church on a guy who was just a bit “rocky.”
Last week I reported that the Catholic volunteers called me a Superhero, for my work with them this year. I was quite honored, but if I’m honest, my first reaction was to humbly state that I was not deserving of such praise. They even hint at my humbleness by saying that a statue of me would be much too much! (If only they asked I would have given the go-ahead!)
The truth is that superheroes are much like our saints. Ordinary people who do extraordinary things. They simple become all that they are, nothing more but more importantly, nothing less.
The wisdom in today’s gospel is that Jesus tells Peter that he has the power to walk on water. And he starts to, but at the first sign of trouble Peter doesn’t think he can handle it all and so, he sinks. When others tell us that we are good, do we believe them? Or do we literally push ourselves down and say “Nah, I’m not so good?”
Jesus always sees us as the best version of who we are. It is what he hopes we can be and what he knows we can be as well. He looks at us as if we were Superheroes. People who can do the impossible….
Like walk on water.
But Jesus also knows that there is a bit of Peter in us as well. We all get it wrong, be it under-confidence (Save me, Lord!) or over-confidence (Get behind me, Satan!). And so, Jesus will always be there to catch us when we fall and to tell us that we have rocks in our head each time we fail to believe in ourselves.
Our students are returning to campus soon. This week I pray for them that they might be confident in their studies and courage to become all that they are. May they find the place that God is calling them and answer that call with vigor and confidence.
And may the rest of us be able to be Christ for them when they are sinking and be gracious to all those who do that for us as well.