So we don’t know what was going on in Peter’s thick skull. But here’s a thought. He needed to get to Jesus. Peter is always trying to get back to Jesus.
The Call to Discipleship and Peter’s Redemption
Easter 3C | John 21:1-19
My favorite part of this story is that Peter is naked.
There are these profound moments in the Resurrection narrative, but what always makes me smile when we read this story is the naked disciple hurriedly dressing and diving into the water. The part of me that is still a 10 year-old boy giggles.
Of course, there is more to it than a cheap laugh.We have made our law so individualistic. Click To Tweet
It isn’t a shame to be naked. It is a shame to behold another’s nakedness. The Jewish custom, going back to Noah, (remember?) is that the beholder is shamed. So they bear the problem. Therefore we aren’t supposed to strip down and give another person shame. That is the transaction: that the offender is not an offender, but the giver of offense.
This sounds weird to us, doesn’t it? We’re used to a way of thinking in which everything is on us. We argue that we are responsible for our actions. If someone exposes himself in public, he is the problem and he bears the punishment. In that case, we are victims, not the shamed.
In our world, we have made our law so individualistic.
But for Jesus, this wasn’t only how law of his time worked, it is how GOD’s law works. To oversimplify it, we might say that for us, we bear responsibility but they share responsibility.
The shame associated with nakedness, then, isn’t just on the one sitting there with no clothes on, but for the one who sees him. And what makes me think every time I read this story is how Peter is naked with all of these friends of his.
Really, I can’t imagine naked fishing. It just seems like a really bad idea. Let’s not think about it. [And I’m resisting making jokes here.]
But there is something innocent in the way this story is told. They are at the beach. Peter says that he’s going to go fishing. Some other disciples go along with them. And they are out there awhile, not catching anything. And this stranger shows up; they can’t tell it’s Jesus at first. And he helps them. And they realize who it is.
This realizing would cause us to change our way, wouldn’t it? Like students noticing when the teacher enters the room. They shape up. These disciples do too. And then we read that Peter just happens to be naked. So he scrambles to put some clothes on.
It is so natural, Peter’s nakedness. Naked with his friends. Out there in a boat. That isn’t the weird thing. They’re close. They’ve been through a lot together. They don’t think anything of it. But Jesus?
Apparently you wear clothes for Jesus.
There is something about this element in the story which resonates with me. Something that makes a certain sense. Maybe it does with you too. That we don’t want to be exposed to Jesus. We need to be our best selves, wear our Sunday best to church and give of our hearts. We can’t be naked. No. That wouldn’t be right. Hide the real us. Don’t let him see who I really am.
Don’t admit it to ourselves.
Isn’t it telling, though, that Peter felt comfortable enough to be naked with them? It is almost like they are family. Almost like they couldn’t be shamed by his nakedness. Almost like they are that close. They share that intimacy.Apparently you wear clothes for Jesus. Click To Tweet
Get to Jesus
In John’s telling of the resurrection, Jesus appears three times. And we’ve covered them in the first three weeks of Easter. On Resurrection Sunday, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. Then Jesus comes to the disciples in the upper room, which we talked about last week. Lastly, he appears to the disciples at the beach.
And this is where we see the writer’s brilliance. Jesus doesn’t recruit the disciples from fishing boats in this gospel. That’s how they are recruited in the Synoptics: Mark, Matthew, Luke. But in John, they come to him differently. They come along the way; Andrew and Peter were first disciples of John the Baptist.
In the gospel of John, there isn’t a first fishing scene with the disciples. So rather than hearing at the beginning, I will make you fishers of people, he is showing them the kind of fishing they are to do at the end.
This gives us so many things to notice, then. Not as a reflection of who they were, but as to who they are now.
Casting their nets alone, they get nothing. But with Jesus, they are full-to-bursting.
This is the story of discipleship, then. This is how they do it. Fishing. Not alone, but with Jesus. Not for glory or for the act of it. But in communion with Christ.
But this story is still Peter’s story. For it isn’t just that he gets dressed so that Jesus doesn’t see him naked in the boat. But when he covers himself, what does he do? He dives in.
What is he doing? Has he lost his mind?
Interestingly, the text doesn’t say. It says that he jumps in and then the disciples switch sides and they catch fish and then the scene cuts away to when they are on the shore. So we don’t know what was going on in Peter’s thick skull. But here’s a thought.
He needed to get to Jesus. Peter is always trying to get back to Jesus.
In the Synoptics, there’s Peter walking on water to get back to Jesus. But here we have a different need to get back. After denying Jesus three times, he needs to make it up to him. Isn’t that what we’d do if we screwed up that bad? Wouldn’t we keep trying to make it up to him? Wouldn’t we dive into the water to see him? Wouldn’t we move heaven and earth to get back to Jesus?Peter is always trying to get back to Jesus. Click To Tweet
This is an awesome way to end a gospel story. At the beach in such a pastoral moment of peace. So opposite the fear that caused them to lock themselves in the upper room a chapter ago. The fear which Jesus came to calm with peace.
Jesus comes to them here, in this amazing contrasting moment; comes to Peter, the thrice-fold denier, and gives him a chance to be forgiven. A chance to rewrite those denials with professions of love. Those Nos are remade as Yeses. Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?
Yes he says each time.
Feed, tend, care for my sheep, Jesus tells him.
The one who was a failure. The one who abandoned Jesus. Even the one who dove out of the boat just when things were about to get good. He comes to Jesus and is forgiven and redeemed. All his missteps and mistakes and misgivings are erased in a moment of transformation and he gets the mission handed to him too.
Take care of my people. Feed them. Lead them. Protect them. All of them. The weak, the homeless, the hungry, and the poor. The immigrant and the widowed. The imprisoned and the lost.
Take care of my people. That’s what love for me looks like.
For us, we need to hear both of these perspectives: of the disciples and of Peter. Because we need to get back to Jesus and we need to get back to the work. Because it isn’t one or the other. It is both.
Jesus’s presence brings the fish into the nets and it is following Jesus that will lead Peter to those sheep. But they don’t get to stay on that beach forever. They have to go somewhere. Where Jesus is leading them.
We are getting out. We are serving our community, particularly our homeless and impoverished. And we continue to be called to include in our work, those who write laws which directly affect whether or not people in our community will have access to food and shelter. Our concern isn’t only Terre Haute and Vigo County but Indianapolis.
And we will be electing a bishop in October who will call us to new concerns and new ministries. Who will no doubt challenge us to see even more ways Jesus is leading us in this and in the wider community.
We don’t do this alone. None of this. But we do this with Jesus and our friends. And we make a work of love which can transform this community and bring GOD’s Different World.
But the only way this will work is if we let Jesus see the real us. Stripped of our pretense and our tradition and our safety nets. Or when we lose all sense of decorum and dive into that water because we want to get back to Jesus. Because even when we’re fully clothed, he can see right through us.