Here’s something I want you to remember today, and cling to in your spiritual life: We can’t do anything good in our spiritual lives all by ourselves. We can’t be perfect disciples all by ourselves. We can’t bring other people to Jesus all by ourselves. We can’t overcome sin in our lives all by ourselves. We can’t speak up for the marginalized or take a stand for life all by ourselves. We can’t vote for the right candidate all by ourselves. We can’t raise our children all by ourselves. We can’t love the other people in our lives as they should be loved all by ourselves. Take any good thing and put it in that formula: whatever it is, we can’t do it all by ourselves.
And we shouldn’t. But what we should do is stop doing things that way as if that was ever going to work.
So over the past several Sundays, we have been seeing a lot of one of my favorite characters in the Gospel, and that is Saint Peter. Just three weeks ago, the Apostles were out in a boat, and Jesus came to them on the water. Saint Peter asked our Lord to command him to come to him on the water, and he did, and we all know how that went. Then last week, Jesus was quizzing the Apostles about who people said that he was. Peter was the one who spoke up and professed that Jesus was the Christ, the coming Anointed One, and Jesus proclaimed Peter the Rock on which he would build the Church.
And here we are today, just a couple of verses later in Matthew’s Gospel, and Peter is in the spotlight again, but this time for a far different reason! So, for context, it’s important to realize that Saint Peter, like all of the Jews of that time, had a preconceived notion about what the Messiah would be like, and what he would come to do. The Messiah was to be a great king and military leader, championing the people and overcoming their enemies, giving them political and military peace and safety. That’s how people thought about the Messiah in those days. Peter was still clinging to those old notions, and so he could not fathom that Jesus would have to suffer and die. And so Jesus chastises him for thinking not as God does, but as people do. It’s a mistake we all make time and again in our spiritual lives.
Peter’s faith journey was like that: up one minute, and down the next. One minute he’s walking on water, the next he’s drowning; one minute he speaks eloquently of his Lord, and the next he’s the voice of temptation. So maybe it seems like Saint Peter, flawed as he was, was an inappropriate choice to be the pillar of the Church, the first of the Popes. But our Lord never makes any mistakes. He chooses who he chooses for a reason, and I think that’s what we have to spend some time looking at today.
If Peter was unqualified for the position to which he was called – and it certainly seems like that was the case – then we have to expect to feel unqualified for the roles to which we have been called. Parents often feel that way when they start to raise their first child. Priests feel that every time they witness something incredible – which is a lot of the time. We are all unqualified, but God sees more in us, he sees our heart, he sees who he created us to be, and he won’t rest until we’ve fulfilled that potential. It’s often said that God doesn’t call the qualified, but instead qualifies those he has called. If that’s true, then Saint Peter is the patron saint of that!
If Peter made some mistakes along his journey of faith and discipleship – and he clearly did – then we have to expect that we will make mistakes in our own faith journey. One minute we’ll have a glimpse of God and we’ll feel like we could never let him down, then the next minute we’ll fall into sin, maybe a sin we’ve been struggling with for so long, and we’ll feel like God couldn’t possibly still love us. But he loved Peter all through the good and bad, and he loves us, no matter what. He pulled Saint Peter out of the stormy waves, and he will reach out and pull us out of our own storms of failure, as often as we cry out to him.
The one thing you can’t fault Saint Peter for is his courage. Eleven other guys stayed in the boat, but Peter wanted to be where our Lord was: out on the water. Eleven other guys kept their mouth shut when Jesus asked who they said he was, but Peter did his best to make a profession of faith. Even what he said in today’s Gospel was probably what the rest were all thinking, but he at least had the guts to say it out loud. His life wasn’t perfect, his discipleship wasn’t perfect, his faith had a long way to go, but he knew that he couldn’t leave our Lord forever. Even when he blows it in the hours before Jesus died and denies our Lord three times, he accepts our Lord’s forgiveness and fulfills the role Jesus gave him in last week’s Gospel.
Saint Peter’s story kept being written all throughout the Gospel narrative, and our story isn’t finished yet either. Our Lord loved Saint Peter and he loves us too. What we have to do is rely on that love, accept God’s forgiveness, and get out of the boat and go to Jesus. We have to stop thinking like people do, and start thinking with the mind of Christ. We have to stop trying to do good things in our lives all by ourselves and start doing them with the grace and power of Christ that can accomplish anything in anyone.
He can make a lousy fisherman the rock on which he would build his Church. He can do great things in us too. If we let him.