21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,[a] Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. – John 21:1-8 (NRSV)
Forgive me, but I find this whole fishing scene kind of comical, really. And I just don’t believe that God will be angry with me if I laugh at the story. I mean, it’s a wonderful, amazing story of Jesus, the risen Lord, appearing to the disciples for the third time. The first two times was when they were still in the room in Jerusalem, hiding out after his crucifixion. First, he appeared to all of them except Thomas, who wasn’t there at the time. But then, he came back and satisfied Thomas’ doubts about what they had told him regarding Jesus being alive. So now they all believed that Jesus truly was alive. And they are hanging out, waiting to figure out what was next for them, when Peter announces, out of the blue: “I’m going fishing.”
That makes sense. It’s what most of them knew best, besides being Jesus’ disciples for the last three years. So, they all decided they would go with Peter and they climbed into the boat and went out for a night of fishing. They did not have good luck, however, and at daybreak, they were coming in with empty nets. Surely, they were tired and disappointed, although maybe just the act of getting out and doing something they had loved was healing, in a way.
But here’s the part that makes me giggle – imagine this scene if you can – all the disciples are piled into the fishing boat, talking, working to get the boat to shore. But someone notices smoke coming from a fire up on the beach. And there in the breaking light is a man, tending the fire and looking out at them. They don’t recognize the man who asks, “Children (children?) you don’t have any fish, do you?” And they agree with him.
Then he tells them to cast their nets to the right of the boat. And as obedient children, they do what he says. And lo and behold, suddenly, the nets are so full of fish they can hardly haul it all in. And then it dawned on them. “It is the Lord!”
Of course it is. Who else would be able to fill their nets with such abundance in this miraculous way? But here is the funny part. Peter is so excited he puts on his clothes – because he was naked! He puts on his clothes and then jumps in the water to swim ashore. He was so thrilled to see Jesus he can’t wait to get the boat up to shore or to get the full nets hauled in. Instead, he jumps in and swims as fast as he can to see the Lord.
But first, he had to put on his clothes. Because he was naked.
I wonder if they were all naked? Or was it just Peter? And usually, people take off some of their clothes to jump in the water. And why did Peter feel he suddenly needed clothes on to greet Jesus? I just think it’s a funny scene.
Truth is, Peter probably wasn’t totally naked. He most likely had on some kind of undergarment, or a tunic, but his outer clothing got in the way as he was working. Or maybe he just got hot. But you gotta admit, that scene is a little comical.
There is a lot to unwrap in the twenty first chapter of John and I plan to stay with this chapter in Friday’s post. But I got to thinking about this naked fishing scene and wondering just what John is trying to point out by telling us that Peter was naked. I believe things in the bible are there for a reason. Otherwise, why even tell us that Peter put on his clothes “because he was naked” and jumped into the water? What difference does it really make?
Now, most of us are uncomfortable with the idea of being naked in front of anybody, especially the older we get. But, would you be uncomfortable being naked in front of the Lord of Lords? If this truly is Jesus, the risen Lord, the Savior, then we can be pretty sure he knows our flaws and imperfections, right?
Did Peter quickly put on clothes because he was embarrassed? Did he do it out of respect? Or, because it was the resurrected Lord, maybe he put on the best he had available, like we do when we go to church on Sunday.
I have a feeling Peter was full of mixed emotions. He was thrilled to see Jesus again and could not wait to get to him. And yes, he surely did feel a sense of awe and reverence and a need to cover himself out of respect. But I think Peter also was carrying a load of guilt and shame and, perhaps, putting on his outer clothes was a way of trying to cover up some of that shame.
Peter had not forgotten how he had denied knowing Jesus – not once, not twice, but three times – in Jesus’ darkest hours before his death. Out of fear, Peter had done exactly what he said he would never do. Jesus had been right and Peter was devastated that he had turned his back on the Lord. Maybe Peter’s nakedness and his sudden need to cover up is symbolic. For Peter. And for us too.
Most of us are pretty good at covering up things, big and small, that we prefer to not show the world. There is a part of us that we often try to keep hidden for various reasons. We worry that if people knew everything about us, they might have a different opinion of us. They might turn against us; might think (or know) how bad/dumb/ugly/guilty (the list goes on) … we truly are. We put on our best look, sometimes, to hide our ugliness and shame.
Of course, Jesus knew what Peter was feeling. He could see through Peter’s cover right into his heart and mind. And as we will see on Friday, he forgave Peter and entrusted him with a great deal of responsibility.
The thing is, friends, we might try to cover up our nakedness with all our flaws, all our sins, but Jesus knows us by heart. He knows every part of us – the good, the bad and the ugly. And guess what? He loves us still. He wants us close to him. And he even has plans for us to continue on with his Good News message.
Jesus looks beyond our faults and sees our need. Our need for him. Our need for salvation and redemption. Our need for the cross. Our need for amazing grace. And he offers that with unmeasurable love.