"Recognizing Jesus"

3rd Sunday of Easter
April 29, 2001
Year C

First Reading: Acts 5:27-32, 40-41
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6,11-12,
Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14
Gospel: John 21:1-14

Each of the four gospels presents us with a picture of Jesus. The same Jesus, but from different vantage points, with a different, carefully crafted understanding of who he was. But when it comes to the post-Resurrection narratives, those stories of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples, things are not quite so neat. They are somewhat confusing and even contradictory. That makes sense, since no one had ever risen from the dead before. Whatever it was that the disciples experienced, and the experiences were varied, they were convinced that Jesus, whom they knew and who was killed and buried, was somehow alive. It was the
same Jesus, yet he was different.

Henri Nouwen, in his book
The Wounded Healer, tells the following story.

“One day a young fugitive, trying to hide himself from the enemy, entered a small village. The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay. But when the soldiers who sought the fugitive asked where he was hiding, everyone became very fearful. The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill every man in it unless the young man was handed over to them before dawn.

The people went to the minister and asked him what to do. The minister, torn between handing over the boy to the enemy and having his people killed, withdrew to his room and read--hoping to find an answer before dawn. After many hours, in the early morning his eyes fell on these words: ‘It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost.’

The minister closed the Bible, called the soldiers and told them where the boy was hidden. And after the soldiers led the fugitive away to be killed, there was a feast in the village because the minister saved the lives of the people.

But the minister did not celebrate. Overcome with deep sadness, he remained in his room.

That night an angel came to him, and asked, ‘What have you done?’

He said, ‘I handed over the fugitive to the enemy.’

Then the angel said, ‘But don’t you know that you have handed over the messiah?’

‘How could I know?’ the minister replied anxiously.

Then the angel said, ‘If instead of reading your books, you had visited the man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known.’”

This is a story of recognition. The recognition is this: Jesus Christ shows himself to us through the persons and circumstances of our day-to-day living. Either we recognize Jesus Christ as we look into one another’s eyes, or we refuse to look into each other’s eyes, bury our heads, and betray Jesus, deny Jesus, alienate ourselves from Jesus, and, ultimately, kill Jesus.

Today’s gospel, too, is a recognition story. The disciples had not known who the stranger was who directed them to lower their nets, but in the size of their catch they recognize Jesus, and John cries out: “It is the Lord.” They knew that only Jesus could give them such abundance.

The question that these two recognition stories pose for us today is this: how well do we struggle to recognize Jesus in our day-to-day experience of one another?

The question is of central concern to us. It is of central concern to all who would regard themselves as religious people. The question implies a view of the entire world--a world in which we are called to find God.

Elie Weisel, who himself is a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, tells the story of the Jew who was trying to convince a fellow-prisoner that God is everywhere. Just then, everyone was ordered into the courtyard for the punishment of a person who had broken camp rules. All of the inmates assembled. And there, in front of the whole camp, a 12-year-old boy was brought to the gallows, stripped naked, and hanged. The second Jew turned to the first: “Where is God in that?” he asked.

The first responded, “Hanging on the end of the noose!”

This is so much our belief, and yet we don’t look into the eyes of one another to see Jesus Christ. We all choose not to look. Over the years I have frequently cried out against the barbaric,
un-Christian and ultimately un-believing practice of capital punishment. It must be stated over and over again that there is never a justification for the execution of criminals. Our faith tells us that even in the eyes of those we despise, we are to see the messiah. But we don’t look.

It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as the examples I cited. This morning I awakened to what I thought would be a pleasant morning. At about 7:30 I was making coffee in the house when I heard a terrific crash in the center. I came out to find a homeless man who had broken the office window. My first reaction was to ask, “How the hell did you get in here?” He told me one of the doors was open. Then I queried: “Does this look like the kind of place you belong? How did you break the window?” He answered that he was knocking on it to get my attention. Now, this was very thick glass and nobody breaks it by knocking on it. Most likely he was trying to break in. Then he told me that he had cut his hand. My response was: “I don’t give a damn about your hand!” To tell the truth, he only had a scratch. But that is not the point. I chose not to look into his eyes, and so I did not, indeed I could not see Jesus. If I had, I might have been concerned about his hand. I was more concerned that we don’t a lot of money and now we have to pay to replace the window. More important than the window, I missed Jesus.

What about the rest of us? Do we recognize Jesus in all of God’s creation and in all of the people around us? Do we recognize Jesus in the events of our daily lives? Do we recognize Jesus in the child crying for comfort or the street person begging for spare change? Do we recognize Jesus in the distracted cashier, in the teenager asking for the car, in the friend who calls up at 5:00 in the morning?

Recognizing Jesus in all of creation, especially in our day-to-day human encounters, is what it means to live the life of faith. Our mission as Christians is to see one another and all of creation with the eyes of faith, and so recognize the risen Lord in our midst. Failing to recognize him is betrayal, denial, alienation, and leads to death. Recognition, as in the case of the disciples today, is saying yes to the invitation to partake of the meal Jesus had prepared. Look, it is the Lord!