Simon Peter was an unusual choice for a position of leadership. When corporations or non-profits or even civil governments need to fill a leadership position they look for someone who is not only competent but trustworthy, even-tempered, empathetic and open-minded. Peter exhibited none of these characteristics.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus gave him the nickname “Rock,” even though the most rock-like thing about him was his hard-headed resistance to Jesus’ preaching. Perhaps we should interpret Jesus’ choice of Peter as leader of the Twelve as being something like a parable about humility.
Not all humility is created equal. There is a type of “humility” that has ulterior motives. Self-deprecation in order to coerce sympathy from others is often called “humility.” Nationalists, here and abroad, portray themselves as victims of discrimination. They are very passionate about their views, but their statements aren’t believable. It’s difficult to feel sympathy for people who live at a time of unprecedented prosperity, and who benefit daily from that prosperity.
A similar attitude is embraced by some of those who practice organized religion, Catholicism in particular. The “humility” of the person who is deeply grieved over their sins, but who makes no effort to reform their lives is false humility. This version of “humility” is little more than a rationalization for wallowing in self-pity.
There is another version of false humility that searches for God but never makes a commitment to follow God’s will. These spiritual “seekers” take the house fly approach to life, buzzing from one spiritual experience to another with no intention of ever settling into anything permanent. The so-called “seeker” spirituality is no more than an excuse for ignoring one’s fears.
There is also a “humility” that is true humility. True humility is constituted by bringing one’s entire self to God, both the good and the bad. Having approached God in full honesty, true humility then accepts God’s will fully, both the consoling and the discomfiting aspects of God’s will. True humility is an act of being reconciled with one’s limitations, including one’s limitations in following God’s will.
At the end of his life Peter was a rock of immoveable faith. He didn’t begin his life of discipleship as a person who was trustworthy or even-tempered or empathetic or open-minded. Eventually, he became a good leader, but only after many repeated failures in his personal life and public life.
Peter lacked the qualifications for leadership, but eventually he became the leader Jesus chose because he didn’t give up on himself or on God’s will. Much like the Canaanite woman in last Sunday’s Gospel reading, Peter persevered even when the outcome appeared uncertain. After much struggle, his perseverance brought him to a place where he was able to fulfill faithfully the Lord’s commands.
Peter exhibited the true humility that embraced both the good and the bad in himself, and both the comforting and the disturbing in God’s will. The humility that Peter learned through many failures as a disciple is what made him the ideal choice for leadership.
Not every baptized person is called to a position of leadership in the Church, but all the baptized are called to the same path of discipleship that made Simon Peter the “Rock” whom Jesus knew him to be. All of us are called to practice the true humility exhibited by Simon Peter.
Rock-solid faith is possible to anyone. It is possible to live in complete trust in God. It is possible to pursue God’s will wholeheartedly, even when the task appears difficult or the outcome seems uncertain. The humility that directs our lives towards God is a lifelong struggle to put aside our self-concern, and learn to follow Jesus.
In today’s first reading God called a new leader for Israel, a leader who would be trustworthy and faithful. In the same way, God calls us to commit ourselves to following Jesus daily. Today is the day to change our lives for the better. Today is the day to choose an immoveable faith in the God who saves us.
Peter wasn’t born an effective leader; he became a Rock of faith only as the result of a lifetime of effort. No one, in fact, is born a faithful disciple. Discipleship is a lifetime journey of learning to be ever more humble and ever more faithful.