John Mark McMillan rocked us all with his song, “Oh How He Loves” over a decade ago. Christian artists, whether rocked by the lyrics or hoping to capitalize on the popularity, all started producing their version, many dropping the controversial lines “sloppy wet kiss.”
“Jesus’ love isn’t sloppy,” some would claim, ripping the lyrics out like an explicit cologne commercial in a magazine at the doctor’s office, breathing more easily now that the offense had been executed and no children would stumble upon the horror.
As a gay Christian, the most accurate description of Jesus and I’s relationship is sloppy and wet. But it’s not just the homos he’s sloppy with — it was also Peter.
In the final chapter of John, we are confronted with a story that’s both intimate and odd — Jesus decides to visit his disciples one last time before heading back to Heaven, and instead of a display of power or a vision of wisdom, He decides to cook fish for the men (really boys) he had spent the last three years of his life with.
While this act is incredibly beautiful and reveals something really special about Jesus (that he’d rather eat with those he loved in an intimate setting rather than boasting of his resurrection), I want to focus on what this chapter reveals about Peter.
The chapter opens with Peter deciding he’s going to go fish.
This man had spent the last three years of his life following a man he believed to be the Messiah, only to have him murdered. The man of power hung powerless on a cross and Israel remained in the clutches of Rome. What was it all for? What was the point? Yes, he was raised from the dead, but what on earth was Peter supposed to do now? The salvation he was hoping for — Jesus coming in as King and Conquerer — didn’t happen. Instead, he’s been abandoned by the man he loves to figure out life alone. Yes, Jesus went to Heaven. But I could imagine, being Peter, on that early morning, staring off into the distance, wondering, “What in the world do I do now?”
So he did what he knew how to do, what he felt competent to do: fish.
And there, on the waters of Galilee, Peter threw out his nets, finding some solace in doing something he knew he was good at, only to find he couldn’t catch any fish.
“What was the point of these past three years?” Net thrown out. No fish. “What am I supposed to do next?” Net thrown out. No fish. “I thought I could do this disciple thing. But I fucked it up.” Net thrown out. No fish. “And now I can’t seem to get fishing right!” Net thrown out. No fish. “Why can’t I do anything right?” Net thrown out. No fish. “FUCK THIS!”
They did this all night, and in the darkness of the desert, Peter was confronted again with his own darkness when all he just wanted was to escape. Escape his failure. Escape his confusion. Escape his terror of not being enough and not knowing what to do next… if only for a moment.
His soul was given no solace on that peaceful sea.
But as the sun rose, a man calls out, “Throw the net out on the other side.”
It’s not like it’s that big of a boat. What the hell does this guy know? Peter’s the fisherman. Not this guy.
But exhausted and angry, he throws it on the other side, completely forgetting that these were the first words his friend and Messiah had said to him three long years ago. He missed his Jesus entirely. But out of exhaustion, Peter just tried something that seemed dumb and pointless. Not because of faith. But out of a lack of options and delirium.
And they caught fish! Too many fish.
As the nets began to break and tear, John points to the man on the shore. “Peter, it’s Him.”
Peter stops struggling with the ripping nets. He turns to the shore. Because ultimately, it wasn’t about fishing. It wasn’t about staying up all night not catching anything. He was there, trying to escape his pain and failure and uncertainty and failed miserably.
But his Messiah was back. And that’s what really mattered; that’s what he really wanted.
In spite of betraying Him. In spite of the plan not working out the way he hoped. In spite of his uncertainty and confusion and terror about life, deep down, he just wanted Him.
But then Peter does something so odd.
He puts on his cloak before jumping into the water. He had stripped to fish, and now, seeing Jesus, he puts it on.
What the Hell?
Why would someone put on clothes before jumping in the water?
Here’s my thought: maybe Peter was trying an act of faith, thinking, “Jesus, this time I’ll keep my eyes on you. This time I’ll walk on water. This time I’ll get it right. I’ll show you. I’ll put on my cloak and keep my eyes on you. I learned. I learned that if I keep my eyes on you, I won’t sink. I can’t get anything else right. I can’t even get fishing right. But with You, I catch fish. With You, my life makes sense. With you, I can walk on…
But this is where I think there was a turn for Peter.
Instead of getting back in the boat, instead of throwing off his cloak to swim more easily, he just tried to get to Jesus.
It didn’t matter that he wasn’t walking on water. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t catch fish. What mattered was moving towards His Messiah.
And as he heaved himself and his sloppy, wet, heavy cloak onto the shore, there was fresh, warm fish.
In that act, I think Jesus was saying, “I know you were scrambling to find something to do, to curve your anxiety, to find some normalcy, to just escape for a little bit from this chaos. I know this ultimately wasn’t about the fish, but here it is. This is ultimately about Us, it’s about moving towards connection with me, towards the kingdom. Regardless of if it’s a sloppy pursuit or pleasant journey, whether you’re walking on water or nearly drowning in your tunic, whether your faith is weak and you betray me three times or you passionately cut off a guard’s ear in zeal and devotion to me. What matters is not the ‘quality’ of the pursuit, but the pursuit, moving towards me, period. That’s what matters. And I promise if you do that, I’ll take care of the fish.”
Seek first the kingdom, and all these things will be added to you…
This idea is affirmed yet again when Jesus asks Peter, after eating fish, “Do you love me perfectly?”
Peter replies, “I love you. But not perfectly.”
Jesus smiles. “That’s okay Peter. That’s all I need. Lead the others in this messy, fucked-up, sopping-wet pursuit. Show them the way. Lead them with your imperfect love. It’s not about the quality of the pursuit. It’s about continuing to keep me in your sights rather than staring at the waves, claiming you’re failing. You’re not failing. You’re learning. And this near-drowning is just as important as the passionate claim that you’ll call down fire. In fact, it matters more. Because this isn’t about your pursuit of me.
“I. Picked. You.
“Here, have more fish.”