Peter takes the plunge of faith

April 13, 2013

The Pastor's Page

Fisherman mosaic at outdoor altar at Church of the Primacy of Peter Tabgha in Galilee Israel

Fisherman mosaic at outdoor altar at Church of the Primacy of Peter Tabgha in Galilee Israel

A Puzzling Passage.   After Jesus rose from the dead he appeared on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The gospel includes some curious details: “On hearing it was the Lord, Simon Peter threw on some clothes (he was stripped) and jumped into the water” (NAB, 1970), or according to the most recent translation, “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea” (Jn 21:7) (RNAB, 2010).

Sin and Separation.  Peter was in the boat and Jesus was on the shore, and they were about one hundred yards apart.  Peter may have loved Jesus, but the sin he committed when he denied Jesus three times put distance between them. Jesus is the reconciler. Jesus reconciled all things to himself through the blood of his Cross (Col 1:20). Therefore, at the sight of Jesus, Peter may have felt that mercy would be available to him if he would only go to Jesus.

A Major Conversion Moment.  For Peter it was a time of decision, a moment of truth.  Jesus had prayed for Peter’s faith (Lk 22:31). Jesus wanted Peter’s faith to increase to a much higher level. It was time for Peter to go from moderate belief to full belief, from hesitation to confidence, from doing what he wanted to whatever Jesus asked, and from wanting to safeguard his life to a willingness to lay down his life for God and the sheep (Mt  10:39;16:25; Jn 15:13). For Peter it was time to take a leap of faith, to take the plunge. Peter jumped out of the boat and into the sea to go to Jesus.

Lightly clad Peter.  Some translations say that Peter was stripped or naked; others say that he was lightly clad. Peter would have been wearing a loin cloth, and when he went to see Jesus on the shore it would have been polite to appear before him fully dressed. Symbolically, Peter’s nakedness suggests that his sinfulness was exposed before Jesus and that he was in desperate need of forgiveness.

He tucked in his garment.  Fishermen typically wore a smock, a loose outer garment, particularly during the nighttime hours when it often was quite chilly. A swimmer would not put on a cloak before swimming because it would create so much drag in the water, even if it was tucked in or tied down with a belt or rope.

Come to the water.  By the time the Gospel of John was written, probably in the late 90s AD, the ritual for the Sacrament of Baptism was already established in the early Church. Peter was about to make a profession of faith with his three statements, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn 21:15,16,17). Faith in Jesus leads to baptism. At the symbolic level, the outer garment may represent a baptismal garment, his jump into the sea may represent the descent into the waters of an immersion baptismal font, and his arrival on the shore may represent the emergence up the steps out of the font by a new believer. Through his plunge into the water, Peter’s sins were washed away, and he was created anew in Jesus who is living water (see Jn 4:14; 7:38).

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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