The Gospel for April 10th, 2016: Third Sunday of Easter
In chapter 21 of John’s gospel another account is told of an appearance of the risen Jesus to disciples who do not at first recognize Him. This happens multiple times after the resurrection. First, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene weeping at His tomb, and it is not until He speaks her name that she knows Him (John 20: 11-18). Next, Jesus joins two disciples on the road to Emmaus who spend hours with Him, but they recognize the risen Christ only after He breaks bread with them (Luke 24: 13-35). And now John tells of how seven disciples, including Peter and Thomas who have already seen Jesus, encounter Him after a fruitless fishing trip standing on the shore in the morning sun and “did not realize it was Jesus” (4).
Like the disciples going to Emmaus, it only after a familiar exchange do they see it is their Lord. With a miracle reminiscent of their initial call to discipleship in Luke 5, Jesus, seeing they have not caught fish, tells them as before to put their nets back in the water. They obey and once again there nets are filled. Furthermore, it is following this that John says to Peter, “It is the Lord” (7). Finally, they share a meal with Jesus right there on the beach.
There are two points I take away from these stories of difficulty in recognizing Jesus after the resurrection. One is an understanding of the importance of the familiar in raising our awareness of His presence. Jesus uses the familiar to reach out to the disciplines in each of these situations: To Mary Magdalene, He calls her by name; to the travelers he shares a meal; and finally, to the seven fishermen, he grants them a miracle catch similar to when He first called them.
The second point is the significance of the familiar in helping us recognize Jesus in unfamiliar situations where we often need Him most. Consider the aid He provides in each of these situations after He is identified. Mary is comforted; the travelers learn the truth of His victory over death; and the fishermen’s nets are filled. The familiar for us Christians who did not live during the time of Christ is the encounters we have with Him through prayer and the Church. Like the disciples in the examples previously mentioned, if we are to recognize Him when he comes to us in our times of need outside of Church, we must develop a familiar relationship with Him through regular prayer and participation in the sacraments. With an established, dynamic relationship in place, we will be more likely to see Jesus’s providence and mission in our lives outside of Church, especially in the struggles and tragedies that inevitably touch us during our time on Earth. It is not to say he will not come to us without that relationship; but the question must be asked, will we recognize Him?