Today there are many books, magazine articles, radio and television programs that focus on the nature of leadership. The University of Notre Dame believes that developing the next generation of leaders is central to our mission, and faculty and staff strive to help students develop leadership skills in their classes, clubs, and dorm activities. There are many models and sources of advice about how to become a leader, but our reading today asks a different question: how do we learn to trust someone as a leader?
Today’s reading describes a situation in which Jesus has already inspired others to follow him; Peter and his companions have become “disciples.” It seems that he is testing them: he has gone up on the mountain alone to pray and while he is away, the boat in which his disciples are riding begins to be tossed about by the waves. Jesus performs a miracle—he walks on water towards them—and instead of being inspired or responding with awe, the disciples are terrified and do not believe this apparition can be their leader. “It is a ghost,” they say, and they cry out in fear.
Peter, testing the validity of what they see, asks Jesus to perform another miracle, by making it possible for him to walk on water. Yet even as he himself is living this miracle, Peter doubts Jesus’ leadership and ability to perform this amazing act. "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" Jesus asks him, saving Peter when he questions the miracle and is about to fall into the sea.
The fear, uncertainty, and doubt that Peter and the disciples experience in this passage are understandable reactions to a leader who asks them to do something they don’t think they are capable of accomplishing. Even when they are successful at performing the miracle of walking on water, they question the behavior their leader has inspired. Today’s passage asks us to consider not only the example of Christ’s leadership, but how we ourselves recognize leaders and learn to trust the example and inspiration they share with us.
Dr. Susan Ohmer
Associate Professor and William T. and Helen Kuhn Carey Chair in Modern Communication
Director, Digital ND