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Buoyant Faith

Gospel Reflection for 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 16:13-20

At the lake this week, my siblings and I were waiting at the dock for my parents to put our boat in the water. I was quickly challenged to a rock-throwing competition to see who could throw a rock the furthest. As I chose a rock to throw, I contemplated size and weight. The impact these details can have on such a competition may provide the edge needed over the strong men in the group. Though this particular challenge was simply to pass the time, it made me think about Jesus giving Simon a new name -- Peter -- meaning "rock." Later this same day, I went water-skiing before floating in the sunshine with the rest of the family. I was aware of how skis and life-vests help us to enjoy the water. (If you read my post from a couple of weeks ago, you will understand the connection these had to Peter learning to walk on water.)

As my brother was putting on two life vests to float for the afternoon, he explained that his body is so dense that his body needs extra help to float. If he had been the one called out upon the water to walk toward Jesus, all who know him would assume he would sink. Regardless of Peter's density, it's amazing that he even thought that there was a possibility that his body could be buoyant enough to walk on the top of the stormy waters. He was not afraid of what the other disciples thought of him. He kept his eyes on Christ and let a miracle work in him. He stepped out of the boat. He did not begin to sink until his focus shifted to the chaos of the storm around him and recalling the security of the boat over the open waters. He forgot about his mission and his destination. He was walking on the water to get closer to Jesus.

Today's Gospel occurs a few chapters after Peter walks on water, so that experience is still fresh in the minds of the disciples in the story and the Church reading the Gospels this month. Rewinding to that stormy night at sea, Peter told Jesus, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." After the disciples saw Peter take steps upon the water, they worshipped Jesus saying, "Truly, you are the Son of God." Fast-forwarding to today's Gospel, Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter responds, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Faith does not have to be complicated. It is actually much more simple than we realize. We are called to remember three things:

  1. who Jesus is

  2. what Jesus has done in our lives

  3. who Jesus says that we are in His eyes

This conversation surely reminded Peter of when He cried out to Jesus in the storm. When Jesus changed his name to "rock," I can imagine the levity that came with the gravity of the call. It was because of Peter's faith that got him out of the boat to be vulnerable enough to sink in front of everyone. The rest of the disciples stayed in the boat, but would have likely kidded Peter of how he "sank like a rock." Jesus would likely share in their humor as well. After all, humor is what opens us up to reality. The funniest comedy expresses the greatest truths.

If I were Peter, I would probably get embarrassed or a bit defensive if others pointed out an imperfection. But, as soon as I turned outward instead of inward, I would recognize the miracle of being a rock that skips upon the water. My experience at the lake would remind me that skipping rocks requires careful discernment about the best rock to choose. I would know that the one who has called me is the Creator of the Universe. He specifically chose me and All is possible with Him!

Without Him, I would sink. With Him, I can beat the odds and do the impossible.

Looking up the definition of "rock," I found a few different meanings:

  • any natural material, hard or soft having a distinctive mineral composition

  • a large piece of rock which has become detached from a cliff or mountain; a boulder ("that's a nice boulder" ;-) Thanks Shrek for this great line.)

  • a stone small enough to be picked up and used

  • a precious stone, especially a diamond

  • someone or something that is extremely strong, reliable, or hard

Jesus is teaching us many things in this short exchange with Peter. He wants us to know who He says that we are and to think outside of the box when we feel stuck in our identities. Often we become comfortable in our position at work, our status in a relationship, or in a title that society gives us. When I sign copies of my book for others, I write "You are more!" Jesus is calling Peter to more than what we knew before. He is not a rock that will sink. Rather, he is the rock that:

  • has a distinct mission in the Kingdom

  • is in the world, but not of the world

  • a servant that can be used by the King of Kings at His request

  • a beloved son of the Father

  • a strong and reliable friend of Jesus and leader of the disciples

Does this mean he will be perfect from this day forward? Of course not. We know what is to come. We are not perfect either, but we do know that the love and will of our Savior is perfect!

To be "buoyant" means to be: able or apt to stay afloat or rise to the top of a liquid or gas, to be cheerful and optimistic, and to be involved or engaged in much activity.

Will you be a rock that sinks since it's attached to the weight of the world? Or, will you be a rock that is engaged and cheerful as you're carried by Christ's promise and presence among us?

As we remember the authority that God has given Peter and our one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church, may we ask for his intercession as we embark on the stormy seas of life against the tide of the world. May we remember God's promise that the "gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against His Church."

Who do YOU say that Jesus is?

Who does Jesus say that YOU are?

Are you living your life accordingly?

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