I’ve never much identified with Peter, the disciple, I mean. Where he’s impulsive, I tend to be calculated. Where he’s the first to ask a question or submit his opinion; I’m often the last. I’ve always imagined him as a burly, working-class kind of guy, and I rather doubt I’ve ever been described as anything close to that.
Peter and I, we’ve been more like acquaintances. Politely distant. Someone about whom I’d say, He’s a good guy. I like him, without ever putting much conviction behind the sentiment.
That all changed a few months ago.
I was on a trip to Israel, my first. I’ve written before about what I saw and what I felt while I was there. The trip was full in every way imaginable, a full itinerary full of new experiences, hard stories, heartbreak, and hope.
On the very last day we all went to Galilee. For the first time in days we weren’t on a fact-finding mission or a cross-cultural collision, we were just tourists in one of the most beautiful and historical places in the world. I found myself mentally and emotionally exhausted and glad for the opportunity to set everything aside for a few moments and simply take in the scenery.
In the afternoon we were given about an hour on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. We arrived just in time to see a rainbow, and we all ran around snapping pictures to prove we were there.
Finally, I sat down on one of the big rocks that littered the shoreline. I’d brought my Bible, but I didn’t have a plan. I half-heartedly turned to the concordance in the back and looked for any mention of the word “Galilee.” Soon, I was reading through John chapter 21.
Easter has come and gone. Jesus is risen, but he hasn’t gone anywhere just yet. He’s appeared to a number of people, including the disciples. But we find Peter, the fisherman, in a boat with a few others. They’ve returned to their normal lives without much success. In fact, they’ve been fishing all night, but as the sun rises they’ve yet to catch anything.
Then a man starts shouting at them from the shoreline. The man is Jesus, but they don’t realize it at first. He tells them to try again, tossing their nets off the other side of the boat. Suddenly, the net has so many fish in it that they can’t drag it back to the surface. That’s when Peter realizes that the man is Jesus. That’s when we reach John 21:7.
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he… threw himself into the sea.
And suddenly I was crying, and I didn’t know why. (Tears are not necessarily an unusual occurrence for me, and certainly not on that trip, but over time I’ve learned that if I’m crying and I don’t immediately know why, God is usually working in some way I haven’t yet noticed.) I asked God why, and I began to realize that I was experiencing a deep envy of Peter, a holy envy if there is such a thing. I wanted to be that desperate to get to Jesus. Forget the boat. Forget the catch. Forget the distance. Forget my dignity.
Just get to Jesus.
I looked up at the Sea of Galilee laid out in front of me, the gentle waves lapping against the shore, and I watched the whole scene play out in my imagination.
I saw Peter’s leap and splash into the water. I saw him swimming ashore. I saw him standing there, his clothes dripping. I really saw Peter for the first time, and I wanted to know him a little better.
Then, to be honest, I forgot. By the time I boarded the plane for home the tidal wave of all of my other experiences and things that needed thinking-about crashed over me. A month passed by, and then another.
A deadline brought it all back. Our creative team needed to pitch an Easter idea. My partners, Jenny Potter and Andrew Schuurmann, set a meeting where we’d pool all our Easter thoughts together and see if anything floated to the surface. The night before the meeting I was frantically looking through my journal for some fragment of something that might constitute a viable idea and happened upon the entry from that day on the Sea of Galilee. Something stirred in me.
When I took it to Jenny and Andrew we weren’t even sure it was about Easter, but the more we talked about it the more excited we became. When the day came that we had to pitch our Easter ideas we brought three to the table. We told our boss (the incomparable Paul Johnson) that we had a favorite, but we weren’t going to tell him which one. The Peter story was the last one we shared, and as I started to talk about it tears were streaming down my face. Before I even finished he said, “I really hope this one’s your favorite because it’s the one we have to do.”
That green light gave us the chance to begin to dig into who Peter really was, to study him and find his story. In doing so we discovered that Peter’s story is our story; it’s my story.
When we first meet him in Luke 5 he’s a fisherman who can’t catch any fish. I can’t count the number of times I’ve failed, felt overlooked or foolish.
Throughout his three years of following Jesus he is behind the curve just as much as he is ahead of it. Though I’d like to pretend that I spend most of my life in a steady uphill climb to holiness, the reality is a lot more hit and miss.
In his darkest moment, consumed by insecurity and very real fear, he shouts that he’s never known Jesus. I know that there are times, more than I’d like to remember, when my actions have shouted the same.
But despite all of his ups and downs, his passion and love for Jesus cannot be denied. Yes. By the grace of God, yes.
Peter and I are no longer acquaintances; we are very real friends. And through him I have new eyes for Easter. I have new eyes for God’s sacrifice, his grace, and his power. I have a new desperation to get to Jesus. I have new hope that despite my darkest moments Jesus will welcome me as I stand undignified and dripping on the shore.
That day on the Sea of Galilee I wrote this in my journal:
Jesus, you didn't just call out, “Good morning! It's me!”
You waited. You let them discover you.
You let each of us do that, don't you? And then we throw ourselves into the sea of your grace and your forgiveness and your faithfulness and your love.
And you welcome us. Because of what you did on the cross, you welcome us.
My hope… my prayer… is that this Easter many more will make that discovery, that many more may throw themselves into the sea.