Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Naked Truth

You probably know the story of the fig leaves, of the first garments ever sewn, of the coverings God created for Adam and Eve when they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and discovered their shame. Certainly, you know of the fig leaves. They were the tenderness of God in the face of man's brokenness. Suddenly, a man and a woman that once stood naked before God could no longer bear to bare themselves to Him.

Which brings us to the story of Peter's tunic. Case in point that man has not come very far.

Peter was a man who had spent the better part of three years with Jesus, and with a bunch of other guys. They had lived together, traveled together, eaten together, shared a drink, shared stories. Their entire lives had been lived together.

Jesus had seen Peter in his strong moments and his weak ones. In times when Peter stood decidedly by His side, such as in the Garden of Gethsemane, and a blink of the eye later in denial in the courtyard. He had seen Peter astounded at the Transfiguration, defeated while falling into the water. He had seen Peter go all-out...of the boat, go all-in, and fall all-short. I believe He had even seen the devastation in Peter's eyes when the Cross was all-but final, when the grave seemed all-too-real.

And then one day, the men are out fishing. They've gone back to what they know. They've been out on the boat all night and the catch is slim. That's putting it mildly. They haven't caught a thing. A stranger yells to them from the seashore, asking about how the fishing is. A short exchange later, and Peter realizes it has to be Jesus. We normally skip the next sentence and jump right to a zealous Peter, diving into the water and swimming a football field's length to shore.

But that sentence reveals something about this moment that we, as a fallen people ourselves, cannot ignore. That little detail we too easily forget is that, before jumping out of the boat, Peter puts his clothes back on.

Know anybody else that puts their clothes on before going swimming? Me neither.

Unless, of course, you're about to meet your Lord and the voice that's ringing loudest in your head right now is your failing.

The odd thing is that, like so many of us, Peter's just been on this boat for hours with his fellow men in some measure of nakedness. He's been completely comfortable to be however stripped-down fishermen were in those days. All of the other guys were probably the same. And nobody had a second thought about it. It's only when Jesus enters the picture that perhaps Peter realizes how "inappropriate" his bareness seems. Why, after all these years together, he's suddenly concerned about what Jesus might see of him is beyond me.

But I do it, too. I don't think I'm alone in that.

There's so much about us that we're willing to share with one another. We're willing to bare our souls to our brothers and sisters, and then when it comes to God, we scramble for cover. We look for clothes. We start to get dressed all proper before we come to Him. Which means when we get there, our story is not our story. It's not the truth we were living just a few seconds ago before we realizes He was here. In a heartbeat, Peter's story, by the mere adding of clothes, changed from "I am a fisherman out working for my living" to "Just a guy out for a swim. Oh, hey, Jesus!" Because he was no longer clad in the life he was just living.

Subtle, I know, but powerful.

This inevitably leads us back to Adam and Eve, to the story of the Garden, to the story of shame. Because that's all it is, right? Something we know about ourselves that we don't want someone else to see. Maybe Peter didn't want Jesus to see that he'd gone back to fishing so quickly. Maybe Peter was worried that God would give up on him when God realized that Peter didn't know what to do with himself and so stepped back into a former life. I don't know. Adam and Eve don't leave so many blanks. "We heard you coming, and we realized our shame, so we hid." They tell God what's up. And how does He answer?

In tender mercy. With one eye on the relationship and a hand on the leaf. He receives their truth, embraces their vulnerability, makes provision for their shame, and tenderly loves them right out of the Garden, to a place where they cannot do any further damage to their spirits. (Where they cannot eat the fruit of life and live forever in a broken state.)

Don't you think God will do the same for you and me? Don't you think He will respond in the same tender mercy?

There is one more aspect of Peter's story that is crucial here, and it reveals the deeper truth both for him and for us. It wasn't for God's sake that Peter covered himself; it's not for God's sake that we hide. It was for his own sake; it is for our sake. 

Once he reaches the shoreline, Peter runs up out of the water, soaking wet, and wraps Jesus in the biggest bear hug he possibly can. It's pure love. It's pure joy. It doesn't give second thought to social protocol. It doesn't think about soaking the Messiah. It only considers love and the chance to have that moment, that one moment, with God. If Peter had any qualms about being improper before the Lord, they don't show. Which means his tunic was for his own peace of mind.

Jesus...would have taken him naked. Jesus would have hugged him just the same. Jesus would have fried the fish, broken the bread, shared the meal with a naked Peter as wholly as He did with a sopping wet one. 

There's so much to think about with this story. There's the contrast between our brothers and sisters and our God. There's the social awkwardness of every broken protocol in Peter's story - abandoning the guys on the boat, swimming to shore, wrapping Jesus up in his arms. There's the Jesus who received him. There's the God who responds with tender mercy. 

But perhaps most powerfully, there is the naked truth. What is your naked truth this morning? And what would it mean for God to see that?

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