The Reverend Antonio García Fuerte
I am not sure if the name “Travis Fimmel” would ring any bells to you. He is an Australian actor, who lives in LA. You might recognise him from TV Series The Beast, or The Vikings in the History Channel, or the movie Warcraft or, out in the cinemas now, Finding Steve McQueen. What most people have forgotten is how he was discovered and came to be famous.
Back on the day, in the late 90s, long before David Beckham started modelling, there was a time when men’s underwear was not part of the fashion industry. It was a boring garment. It all changed when the brand Calvin Klein decided to take a risk and try to introduce fashion into men’s underwear.
The legend goes that, their advertising company’s photographer, was on holidays in Melbourne. One day, while he was walking by the beach, he saw coming towards him, riding a wave, a young male surfer. The photographer asked if he could take some pictures, to which the surfer agreed. After a few days, when he had developed the film and realised how photogenic this guy was, he came back to same beach to try and sign him up as a model, which he did.
A year later, Calvin Klein launched for the first time a male underwear fashion line and advertising campaign. And I am sure, those of you who remember the 90s, you will all be able to remember the black and white advertising of a long haired model, leaning back sitting on a piece of furniture, with a body that resembles the greek sculptures in the British Museum, six pack, and covered only by his underpants.
This advert was one of the biggest hits ever in the world of advertising. It was a worldwide phenomenon. It was reported that one of his London billboards had to be pulled down after complaints from an auto club of traffic congestion and accidents by ‘rubbernecking’ drivers.
I was a young seminarian in Madrid at the time this was all happening. While I was in Seminary studying, every book of the Bible or group of books, constituted a subject. That year we were studying the Synoptic Gospels, this is, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. At one point you are meant to look into the individual passages, their meaning, the history of their interpretation, etc. This one we have in front of us today, Jesus walking over the waters, I remember as being one of the most interesting.
A branch of rationalistic biblical interpretation had attempted to explain all miracles of Jesus as non-miraculous common events. And the explanation for this one is as follows: Jesus is walking by the sea in the early morning. From the beach, he sees the disciples in the boat, and he wants to join them. There is, floating in the beach moved by the waves, a large wood block, possibly from a boat. Jesus jumps into it and surfs on it towards the apostles, letting them think that he is actually walking on the water…
Later, chatting about this to my colleagues in Seminary, one of them said: “well, that would explain why Jesus is usually depicted in the crucifixion with long hair, and a six pack… if He was a surfer, just like Travis Fimmel!”
Jokes aside, the story of Travis Fimmel tells us something very important about this passage. Travis Fimmel live changed forever the moment the photographer came back to ask him to come with him to LA and become a model, and he accepted. That was the decisive moment of his life. For the Apostles, is the moment in which Jesus comes to meet them in their boat. For Peter, is the moment in which Jesus comes rescue him as he sinks in the water.
There are two key elements to the Travis Fimmel story for him to be successful:
First, is that the photographer is really whom he says he is. Imagine the photographer had lied to him, that he was some unknown man hoping himself to make it someday (maybe through this model) into the marketing photography industry. So it is paramount to the success of the event, that the photographer is genuinely the man he says he is.
Secondly, that Travis Fimmel trusted the man wholeheartedly. Imagine that the photographer was dishonest, and Travis Fimmel would have found himself lost in LA, with no money, no job, no house… How different it would have all been! But Fimmel trusted the man who was in fact telling the truth.
The same two keys to Fimmel’s success (the truth of the photographer and the trust in him) are the key to the success of our faith:
First, is that He who is in front of us, Jesus, is really whom he says he is: true man and true God. If he is not true God, our faith is nothing better than a social philosophy, or a political or social ideology, or at best a new-age type of lifestyle. If he is truly God, he can promise us something beyond this world, something eternal. Faith is only true faith if we believe that Him in front of us is not a ghost but it is, in fact, God. Paul, in the letter to the Romans, invites them today precisely to proclaim this: “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9) Faith is also about what we can see, but most of all, faith is about eternity.
Second, when we trust enough that we are not followers of a ghost but of the risen Christ, then we can take on his invitation to follow him, not only to LA, but to follow him wherever he calls us.
This is what faith is about, our faith:
It is an offer to follow a person, a person who is truly whom he says he is and not a ghost, and that can bring us with him to happiness, to salvation.
Faith that risen life is the true life, and that what we live now is the ghost life;
Faith that we follow and walk towards the risen Christ, because the more we turn towards Christ, the more we absorb and live out his own identity, the more we resemble Christ himself, the less ghost like we are and the closer we come to what God has always wanted us to be. And that includes the fulness of happiness, now, in this present time as well as in eternity.