He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. (John 21:5-9 NIV)
Like the majority of first century men, Peter and other disciples of Jesus were laborers working physical jobs. As did the rest of the culture, they wore both outer and inner tunics. While working, men would often remove the longer outer tunic to allow greater freedom of movement. If a man wore only his knee-length inner tunic, he was said to be “naked”.
This description of Peter wrapping his outer garment around his waist prior to jumping into the water to swim toward Jesus raises my curiosity. Why did John mention it? Strapping on extra encumbrance to swim is counterintuitive.
What could we, two millenia removed from this scene, miss about this detail? Let’s skip to the end of this scene after the disciples’ breakfast with the risen Jesus on the shore of Lake Galilee:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
….The [second and] third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:15…17-19 NIV)
How can we interpret these references to Peter putting on bulky clothing before a swim in his zeal to greet Jesus, his loving Jesus, and following Jesus? Consider these ideas:
Prior to this breakfast, evidently Peter hadn’t yet felt fully restored to fellowship with Jesus after the shame of denying Him three times. Peter carried the unnecessary burden of this failure. The weight of his water soaked outer garment reflected that impediment. Jesus’ three questions restored Peter’s focus to the love relationship between them.
Jesus also wanted Peter to know the Holy Spirit would provide the kind of energy needed to “feed my lambs”.
Finally, Jesus wanted Peter to be aware of difficulties ahead that would be unique to him. The human strength and freedom Peter enjoyed as a young man would be increasingly met by limitations. Peter would develop more reliance upon the Holy Spirit as that happened.
As you contemplate things that seemingly limit your relationship with Jesus, listen to this familiar song composed by Bill Gaither. He Touched Me