I gave my 6th graders a test. We are studying the virtue of faith. The Gospel lesson we studied was about Jesus calling Peter which teaches us how faith is life giving but can look foolish to others, especially those who don’t have much of it. According to Matthew, Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishermen for people.” Hearing these words, Peter and his brother Andrew immediately left their nets and followed Jesus.
The test for the students comprised two questions. First, “Why did Peter’s faith look foolish to some people?” and, second, “How might your faith look foolish to others?” By and large, the students answered the first question with very similar answers saying people probably thought he was a fool for leaving his business, the nets, fish, and boat behind. The second set of answers, however, was anything but uniform.
One student wrote that some people think it’s foolish for a Roman Catholic boy to study at an Episcopal school. (Personally, I think it’s a wise thing to do, but I digress.) Another student wrote about our Day of the Dead celebration and how remembering the dead might seem foolish and strange to some other people; in her words, “They say, ‘like they’re dead, so who cares.’” Another wrote about money and how giving it to a church could look foolish. The wisdom of our students amazes me. Needless to say, they all passed.
The first ethic of Middle School, I have learned, is to avoid looking foolish. And so, I figured the students would be able to empathize with Peter because he must have known what he was doing would look foolish to a lot of people in his community. Consider what Peter may have gone through at the local hang out spots – the questions and ridicule from his friends for leaving his fishing business to follow a man who wasn’t even a certified Rabbi.
The students were not quite willing to dismiss Peter’s actions out of hand so they asked, “Why did Peter follow Jesus?” I tried to explain that he heard the voice of God but they didn’t connect very well with that answer. Changing tactics, I asked them this question, “What are you willing to look foolish for?” That question wasn’t on the test. And I did not require them to answer. The silence that followed wasn’t because they weren’t thinking; it arose from a sincere evaluation of their beliefs and social standing. That is tough stuff for kids who do not want, above all, to look foolish and I was proud of them.
After a sputtering and awkward conversation, I can tell you one thing for sure: Middle School students at Saint John’s, in their multi-faceted, demanding, and fast-paced lives, are not willing to look foolish for much. But, they will for one thing – love. Yes, they are willing to look foolish for love. Whether that love is for the pop band, One Direction, or for their devotion to a particular sports team, or even for their family, they will look foolish for love. I say this because perhaps more than faith, love is worthy enough for us to look foolish to our peers.
And now I wonder, was it faith in God that made Peter immediately follow Jesus, or was it his love of God? Regardless, when the test of faith came to Peter, he chose love, faith, and even to look foolish.