The Lord’s Lessons in Our Failures

The Lord’s Lessons in Our Failures

I’m captivated by this moment on the Sea of Galilee in John 21. Whether intentional or not, I love the image of Peter diving into the water. He’s still audacious, but he’s not grandiose. He does not attempt to run across the water or make a leap of faith or stand proudly at the bow. He knows he is a mere swimmer. He dives into the water with the unrestrained joy of a child. He just wants to be with Jesus. The cross means participation in future glory, for sure, but too often we gloss over the gritty reality of whips and nails. 

Luke tells a story in the fifth chapter of his Gospel. Jesus was in Galilee teaching, the crowds pressing in to the point of overwhelming him. Peter (then called Simon) had been fishing all night and was nearby washing his nets. His boat sat empty on the shoreline, and Jesus asked if he’d take him out a little way on the water so his voice would carry as he taught. Simon did as he was told. When Jesus was done teaching, he told him to go out further and cast his nets. Peter was tired. He’d fished all night and had just cleaned his nets; he’d have to repeat the whole exercise and as an experienced fisherman, he knew that the effort was pointless. Fishing had been fruitless the night before; it was the wrong time of day to be casting nets anyway. But he did as he was told and cast the nets again. The nets almost tore with the weight of the fish, and his partners had to come to help them bring in the catch. 

Three years later John saw the mysterious figure on the shoreline and the overflowing nets after a hapless night. He turned to Peter and said, “It’s the Lord” (v. 7). 

Peter dove right into the water and swam to shore. 

* * *

I’ll admit that this may well be overreading the text, but I can’t help but obsess with one detail in this account: Peter leaping into the water. 

Maybe it’s a superfluous detail, maybe it shows Peter’s impulsiveness once again. But when I read it, I can’t help but think of yet a third moment between Jesus and Peter on the Sea of Galilee—one recounted in Matthew 14. 

Jesus had performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand but had done so with grief in his heart. He’d just gotten word that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded. As Jesus dismissed the crowds, he sent the disciples ahead of him across the sea while he retreated into the mountains to pray. Late in the evening he watched their boat on the water, moving slowly because the waves and winds were against them. Jesus set out after them, walking across the waves. 

The disciples were terrified when he came into view, certain that he was a ghost. Jesus calmed them down, assuring them it was him. Peter said, “If it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water” (v. 28). 

“Come,” Jesus said. 

Moments later, Peter stepped out of the boat, took a few steps, and then, seeing the waves and wind, grew afraid and began to sink. Jesus grabbed him by the hand. “You of little faith,” he said. “Why did you doubt?” (v. 31). They walked to the boat and continued the journey across the Sea of Galilee. 

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