Go, jump in the lake. Back in the olden days if you wanted to get rid of a pest or dismiss someone who was bothering you that’s what you would say: Go, jump in the lake. Get lost. Go jump in the lake. But I grew up in Baltimore. What did I know about lakes? Of course, now that I live near a lake I can see that jumping into the lake might not be such a bad thing to do. If it’s a really hot day in July and I want to cool off, hey, I’ll go, ride down 31st Street and jump in the lake. If you are on one of those reality shows like Survivor or The Amazing Race you might jump in the lake to win a million dollars. Maybe if you were running for President you would jump on the lake for a few votes – of course, they would stand on their head and whistle “Yankee Doodle” for a few votes, too. In any case: jumping in a lake can be a good thing. But good or bad, jumping into the lake requires going all the way. You can’t kinda, sorta jump in the lake. You either jump in the lake or you don’t. Jumping in the lake is, quite literally, a matter of sink or swim. Once you jump in the lake you’re committed. Jumping in the lake involves all that you are.
St. Peter jumped in the lake. When he heard that the stranger on the shore was Jesus he jumped in the lake. It is no coincidence that the beloved disciple was the one who recognized Jesus. The eyes of love can transform a stranger on the shore into a beloved friend. Peter wanted to be with his beloved friend Jesus as soon as he could so he jumped in the lake – clothes and all! Love makes us do strange things. By jumping in the lake Peter gave himself totally over to his desire to be with Jesus. What happened to St. Peter after he jumped into the lake shows us how to throw our whole selves into the spiritual life as well.
First, notice that Jesus invited Peter and the other disciples to breakfast. Nothing like a fish fry in the morning to get the juices flowing. You can picture the scene – here is Jesus working the grill, Peter dripping all over everything with his clothes and hair sopping wet and the other six disciples standing around all stinky from a night working on the water. Jesus said, Come, have breakfast. How normal, how ordinary. Maybe that was the point. The seven disciples weren’t going to find God in the exotic or the unusual. They didn’t need to say any specialized prayers or find some hallowed ground in order to be in the presence of the divine. All they needed to do was see the ordinary stuff of life with the eyes of love – in having a go at fishing, in eating a meal, in having a cook-out – to understand that life God was breaking in. When we jump in the lake of faith all that we are, all that we do, has a sacred dimension, even eating breakfast. We need only recognize God in the ordinary.
St. John adds to the story the fish fry, an account of the discussion of the apostle and the Lord. Peter’s triple denial during Jesus’ trial is remedied by a triple assertion of love. “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.” How heart-felt those words must have been. But what Jesus impresses on Peter is that talk is cheap. It’s easy to say “I love you” but actions speak louder than words. So Peter needs to show his love for Jesus by caring for, tending his sheep, those who are near and dear to him. It is in the concrete realm of action that love comes alive. So for Peter, also for us. Our love of Jesus is manifest in the acts of love we extend to his flock, the Body of Christ in the world. We show that we love God when we forgive someone who hurt us, when we take time for someone who is upset, when we are charitable to someone in need, when we are patient with a family member, when we walk with someone in grief. Our love for Jesus is merely a nice idea until it recognizes the family resemblance to Jesus in the battered and bruised of this world which prompts us to reach out to them with mercy and compassion. When we jump into the lake of faith we are joined by many others who can only get to shore by helping one another.
The conversation of Jesus and Peter ends with a command: Follow me. Follow me even when it involves going where you would rather not go. Follow me even when you would rather do what everyone else does. Follow me when you would rather have the nicest and the newest. Follow me when you would rather not treat everyone, even the mean people, with kindness and compassion. Follow me when you would rather not do unto others. That’s what it’s like when you jump in the lake, when you go all in. We surrender our own preferences, our own inclinations because our one desire and choice is always and only to do the will of God. We see that St. Peter got that message in the Acts of the Apostles when he tells the authorities: “We must obey God.” We get the message when we pray as Jesus did in Gethsemane: Father, I would like this, but not my will but yours be done.
Here’s the thing. When you jump in the lake the water touches you all over. There isn’t one part of you that isn’t wet. So with God – we are washed, flooded, drowned, submerged in the grace when we throw ourselves into faith. From now on, we should feel honored when someone tells us: Go, jump in the lake. AMEN!