Today is my son Peter’s birthday. He is named for Peter in the New Testament, because, while Jesus may have loved John the most, I love Peter best of all. I love him because he is so willing to get wet.
Peter gets famously wet when he tries to walk to Jesus across a stormy sea (Matthew 14:22-33). We focus, naturally, on Christ’s words, as he gently rebukes Peter for letting his faith give way to fear. But still, Peter is the one who got out of the boat! Here Peter’s weakness and strength are inextricably intertwined–he is impetuous; he acts before he thinks. He eagerly tries to go toward Jesus, then thinks and becomes afraid. I often think that Jesus was teasing his loved disciple just a little when he said “Thou art Peter; upon this rock I build…” Peter is, of course, no rock, at least not at the beginning. He is volatile and unstable. But Christ sees the eagerness, the quick and passionate love, the willingness to dive, headlong and heedless, into his work.
At the last supper, when Jesus explains that the disciples must allow him to wash their feet–”If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (John 13:8)–Peter’s response is quick. “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Peter gives all of himself to his impulse, his desire to be one with Jesus. A few hours later, of course, he will give himself again entirely to his fear, and will betray his love. But this warm-hearted, hot-headed betrayal is somehow utterly different from Judas’ coldly calculated betrayal. Perhaps we are given this example to remind us that we will have to take risks in our love of the Savior, go beyond what is reasonable, beyond what we are capable of, and that we can be forgiven for falling into the deep water of fear, if only we will also take the risk of trying to go to him, trying to love him more than we can.
My favorite example of Peter getting wet is in the last chapter of the book of John, when the disciples see the risen Jesus on the shore of the sea of Tiberias. John’s account tells us that they are not far from land when the man on the shore directs them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, and the nets become miraculously full. Realizing that the man must be Jesus, Peter grabs his coat and jumps into the water. I love this image of Peter most of all–unprepared (naked!), unthinking (of course it would have been quicker to get to shore in the boat) Peter runs toward the Lord he loves, awkwardly clutching his coat around him. You know how silly people look when they run through shallow water; Peter must have been a sight. And he didn’t care, didn’t think; he let himself be propelled by uncomplicated love and joy.
I love the rest of the story, too–the disciples marvelling over their catch (one of them apparently taking time to count that there were exactly 253 fish, and trying to account for the unusual tensile strength demonstrated by the net in this instance) and eating breakfast on the beach with God. With God! And then Jesus teasing Peter a little, one last time, knowing that making him a little mad is the best way to get him to be determined, rousing his weakness which is his great strength, goading him into being a rock after all.
This is my Peter’s eighth birthday, his first chance to show his willingness to get wet. He is earnest and a little solemn about preparing for baptism–when we spoke in Family Home Evening about what it means to take Christ’s name, he said, “well, you know how you’re always saying ‘in our family, we don’t hit,’ or ‘in our family, we do chores before we play’? I think taking Christ’s name means that you have to do things the right way for his family.” My Peter is concerned about doing things right. I hope as he gets older he will learn from the Peter for whom he is named that the rules of Jesus’ family aren’t so very complicated, that if we are ruled by love, Love will rescue us from the storm of our fears, wash us from our sins, and invite us to feast together, as friends.