Friday, April 1, 2005

John 21:1–14

This charming story of breakfast on the lakeshore, with Peter’s nudity and implusive dash into the water (when is the last time you heard of someone putting clothes on so that they could dash into the sea and swim to shore?), the charcoal fire, the net laden with a hundred fifty-three fish, is often only used as the prelude to Peter’s re-integration and reconciliation with Jesus after having betrayed him.

I’m interested in something else. Since all week I’ve been speaking about recognition of Jesus as a major theme in these Easter appearances, I want to point to this odd quote above. Normally one does not remark that someone didn’t ask “Who are you?” In other words, either the person is recognized, which is normal, and so it isn’t worth mentioning that they weren’t asked, or not recognized, in which case they are asked.

So this verse tells us that the situation was something in the middle. That one might think Jesus wasn’t recognized, but that in fact he was. Which, to me, means that it took them a moment, that this recognition wasn’t just ordinary recognition but the kind of thing that the previous appearances were all supposed to help with. In other words, it’s still not immediate, still not automatic, that they recognize Jesus, but they are getting better at it.

This is bolstered by the earlier comment, “Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” This could mean just that the distance from boat to beach was great, and indeed it does mean that, but it is also there to signal the same kind of recognition scene as we are now familiar with.

The beloved disciple is the first to recognize him, “It is the Lord!” And then Peter jumps in. The other disciples collect fish from the sea and have a splendid breakfast, and then, “they knew it was the Lord.” A Eucharistic moment follows, with Jesus giving them bread and fish, and then one of John’s countings: “This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” Remember the third sign he did in the Gospel of John? It was the feeding of the five thousand in John 6, a chapter filled to the brim with Eucharistic overtones.

Peter is reconciled, and then John tells us that “There is much else that Jesus did. If it were all to be recorded in detail, I suppose the world could not hold the books that would be written.” It is this invitation that we have now been instructed how to recognize Jesus, and we must now proceed to start telling these other things that Jesus did, the things he’s done in our own lives and the ways we have recognized him and come to know him.

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