Why WAS Peter fishing in the nude?

The following is an email I sent today,  to my pastor, Heather Kirk-Davidoff, commenting on a sermon she gave on John 21.

I think I’m a pretty open minded fellow, but I’m always amazed at how narrowly I continue to read scripture. Your take today on John 21 seems so obvious I am confounded as to how I missed it before. I have to think that it is because I was already told what that passage meant – twice. First as a Catholic I was told that this was Jesus preparing Peter for his role as the first Holy Father.Then as a Protestant I was told that ‘feed my sheep’ meant spreading the Word – Evangelism. As well as Bob’s take on it – that Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him so that Peter can repent for the three times he denied him. It never occurred to me before that Peter was forsaking his ministry and returning to the ‘ways of this world’ – business as usual – and that Jesus was calling him out on it.

So why on Earth would we ever consider that this feeding had anything to do with actual food – in this case fish? Now I see that it’s all about food, especially when you consider the breakfast. It says that Jesus cooked the fish over a charcoal fire, not a drift wood fire. Did Jesus bring the charcoal? There is such a sense of intentionality about that meal and it ties into everything else in this story so beautifully.

Were Peter and the others back in the fishing business because, with Jesus gone, they had lost their sense of vocation? It makes sense. But, I don’t see Jesus rebuking Peter for becoming a fisherman again so much as telling him that in this capacity he needs to put service to others (by feeding them) above all else. Of course, Peter did leave his nets behind, again.

I couldn’t help being reminded of Matthew 25; all the goats confessing their love but only the sheep living it out. And how this seems to describe much of the Church for most of its history.

Oh, and I think you were right on the money with the whole ‘naked’ thing. Adam and Eve ashamed before God – Peter ashamed before his Lord.  Very metaphorical. Fishing once again, Peter is literally caught with his pants down. Why WAS he naked? Was that the custom? Was this  typical of 1st century Palestinian fisherman or was Peter just a… free spirit? I’ll have to look that up. Funny thing is, I don’t ever remember Peter’s nakedness in all the times I’ve read these passages before.

Good stuff, Heather. Thanks.

  1. #1 by bfried5 on April 19, 2010 - 7:42 pm


    What kind of a left-wing, anti-American channel is this, anyway?

    What’s next? A free trip to Moscow to see Lenin’s tomb?

  2. #2 by anon on April 20, 2010 - 1:38 am

    Could I ask…..?….
    “Peter ashamed before his Lord.”
    I was under the impression that Christians believed humans are made in God’s image?–or something like that? So why be ashamed of the body created by God/Lord in his image?

    Since the story is being interpreted in a different way, could I comment? —clothes can be related to identity/responsibility. Taking clothes off may symbolize taking off the responsibilty—which might be why Jesus Christ(pbuh) was making a big deal about hammering home the responsibilty of taking care of people/followers (lambs and sheep)? —and if the fish symbolize knowledge/wisdom, then the quantity symbolizes the abundance to be shared?
    Although….If the story had been about harvesting corn, the symbolism might have fit better with lambs and sheep…?
    does the use of “fish” have a particular purpose/symbolism in the Bible?

    • #3 by Christian Beyer on April 22, 2010 - 12:40 pm

      Well, I don’t know how many Christians believe that means we were made in God’s physical image. I take it to mean that we, like God but unlike other animals, are fully self-aware, are capable of love and creating and understand right from wrong. Although I guess the story of the eating of the forbidden fruit might refute what I said about understanding right from wrong – at least not from the beginning. But no metaphor is perfect, not even a biblical one.

      I like your different perspective – why not? But I don’t know anything about the symbolic potential of fish – or clothes for that matter.

      Lately I’m coming to see that sometimes the things that happen in the bible are pretty much straight forward – in this case we need to be literally feeding hungry people. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. 😉

      • #4 by anon on April 22, 2010 - 8:24 pm

        “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

        I would agree with that.

  3. #5 by logiopath on April 20, 2010 - 6:40 pm

    Maybe Peter simply wanted to fish in the buff–or maybe the author used some metaphoric hyperbole.

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