The Moment of Recognition

[Watch video here.]

John 21:1-19

Let’s pray.

Loving Rabboni, you welcome me into your community.
You listen to my voice, you see me as I am, and I am loved.
I have courage and strength to persevere in your loving way,
loving God, loving creation, and loving my neighbor.
Send me; use me.
When I encounter suffering, I will show mercy.
When truth telling is called for, I will speak the truth.
When voices are silenced, I will amplify them.
I will spread the good news that transformation and new life are within us.
The old is passing away; you are making me new.
Thank you, my Companion. [Amen.]

That particular prayer is called Mary’s Prayer.
It is based on the story of Mary Magdalene,
who saw the risen Christ and initially did not recognize Christ.
Yet, Christ recognized her. In an intimate moment,
Christ calls her by name: “Mary!”
In that moment, she turns and shouts, “Rabboni!”
which means teacher.

Oh! Mary realizes she is in the presence of the one she loves deeply!

This particular prayer captures this moment of recognition in its first lines:
“Loving Rabboni, you welcome me into your community.
You listen to my voice, you see me as I am, and I am loved.”

Christ sees us as we are.

That is true for Mary.

This is true for us.

That is true, too, for Simon Peter.

Yes! By the end of today’s reading,
we have this rich encounter between
Jesus and Peter where Jesus fully perceives Peter.

However, let’s not start at the end;
let’s start at the beginning.

What is the lead-up to that encounter?

As the story begins,
I imagine that Peter has a complex relationship with Jesus.
He’s found himself swept away by Jesus’ vision of the world.
He’s left what he had to make a life with Jesus.
He did not always understand,
but he still walks the road with Jesus.

That is, until his last hours.

That’s when stuff got real.

The powers that be—the economic powers,
the ruling powers—they weren’t a huge fan of Jesus’ alternative vision.
For them, the vision was not that great.
Afterall, the ruling emperor was believed to be a god,
and Jesus said, don’t worship the emperor!
After all, Jesus did not get bread sponsors, or promote bread companies;
rather Jesus just handed out five thousand loaves of bread, for free.
After all, if people were sick, Jesus just healed them,
without asking about money or insurance.

Jesus bucks the system,
and so the system bucks Jesus.
They kill Jesus.

That’s when stuff got real.
That’s when Peter realized how threatening Jesus’ message is.
It threatens people in power,
and sometimes people will kill to keep their power.

That’s when Peter had some second thoughts.
As would be natural in that moment.

When people started asking,
“Are you one of Jesus’ disciples?”
Peter replies, “I am not.”

Peter’s best friend, Peter’s teacher,
Peter’s beloved, Peter’s God dies.
And Peter does nothing to help:
He doesn’t accompany Jesus, the Christ;
he doesn’t speak up for Jesus, the Christ.
There’s a way in which he is complicit in what happens.
Which is to say, Peter has a complicated relationship with Jesus.

The Good News, in this story, is that Christ rises from death.
Yet, is Peter really ready to face the risen Christ?
Or perhaps I should ask, is Peter ready to face the truth about himself
and how he acted toward Christ?

I am not sure.
Perhaps Peter is not sure, either.

Which is why, even though Christ has already visited Peter,
even though the risen Christ has said, “Peace be with you;
As the holy Parent sent me, so I send you,”
Peter is not quite ready to be sent.

Which is why he finds himself saying, mundanely,
“I am going fishing.”

The others agree, “We will go with you.”

Today’s Scripture is about perception.
We are building the dramatic tension together
to the moment of recognition.

In this story,
when will Peter perceive the risen Christ?
When will Christ perceive Peter?

When will Christ perceive you?

Today’s Scripture is about perception.
Yet what is wild is that Peter is not the only one
who is perceived.

I love that the Scripture names the other disciples present
with Peter at the seashore.
One of those disciples is Nathanael of Cana in Galilee.

Nathanael’s call story is included in the Gospel of John.
In his call story, friend Philip comes running to him, saying,
“We found the one who the prophets talked about—Jesus of Nazareth!”
Nathanael responds, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth!”
Philip responds, “Come and see.”

Already, Nathanael is invited to perceive differently!
And then when Nathanael goes to find Jesus,
Jesus tells Nathanael about himself, and Nathanael responds,
“How do you know me?”

Jesus responds, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree
before Philip called you.”

Ooo-wee! Nathanael is shocked by how well Jesus knows him!
And Jesus just responds, “I saw you!”


And now that same Nathanael of Cana
is in the boat with Peter fishing.

Nathanael came and walked with Jesus, yes,
and now it’s time to see.

Back to the story of the day.

The disciples fish through the night,
catching nothing.

Then, at the first light of dawn,
the risen Christ appears.
They do not perceive Christ.
Yet Christ perceives their hunger
and gives them good fishing instructions!

Just like the bounty overflowed at the wedding of Cana,
now the bounty overflows again.
The disciples try to haul in this tremendous catch.
153 fish! That is to say, a lot of fish!

They get it! Peter gets it: this is the Christ!
This is the moment: his whole soul, it seems,
has hungered for this reunion.
He lets the others drag in the fish,
and he swims right to Jesus.

Jesus has already built a fire
and prepares them breakfast.
Feeding their body. Feeding their soul.

Oh yes, Jesus gets them, sees them, loves them well.

And then Jesus takes Peter aside for a special moment.

Now, we are at the heart of the story.
And there are two parts to it.

First, what is going on in Peter?

A complexity of emotions.
Shame. Excitement. Fear. Regret.
Love. Confusion. Desire.

Second, what is going on in Jesus?

Jesus perceives Peter’s core and loves him.

This is the ultimate moment between loved ones.

If this was a movie,
we would know that this is the moment of reckoning.

In this moment of judgment,
Jesus asks Peter softly, “Do you love me?”

This question cuts deep,
Because the truth is yes, yes, Peter loves Jesus, child of God.
He says, yes, I love you.
Peter faces accountability for his actions.
He loves Jesus and has been complicit in the killing of God!

Oh yeah, I can imagine Peter thinking,
I love you and I did all these things that hurt you. I am sorry.

This encounter with the risen Christ,
how do we stand it?
How do we stand someone seeing all of us?

It’s excruciating.

My friend, the Rev. Ernesto Medina,
helped me to understand this week
that it is only Jesus’ unconditional love that enables us
to withstand full perception.

Jesus responds to Peter,
Hey, Peter, feed my sheep.

Ernesto pointed out to me that
that response is Jesus’ judgment.
Jesus treats Peter as if he is a child of God until Peter himself believes.

That’s the verdict!

Jesus perceives all of who we are;
we are a child of God, and Jesus treats us that way until we believe it.
Until we recognize Christ, not only in our neighbors, but in ourselves.

Christ gives us that moment of truth so we can move forward.
So we don’t have to stay stuck.
So we are not trying hard in our relationship with God to pretend
something didn’t happen.
Something did happen, and still Jesus loves you.

Come and see.

This moment of reckoning
is actually a moment of recognition.

The moment of recognition is not just about our surroundings.
It is also about our insides.

Can we perceive the Christ within?

What I love about today’s story is that
Jesus perceives not just Peter’s core,
but Peter’s gifts. Peter is a fisher, a feeder,
and so Jesus reflects this back as he sends Peter forth:
Hey, Peter, feed my sheep.

This is our loving rabboni,
the one who welcomes us into community,
who listens to our voice, who sees us as we are,
and loves us.

Come and see.

In the Gospel of John,
this is the first thing Jesus says
to the first people who want to follow him.

Come and see, Philip repeats to Nathanael.

Come and see, God calls to us.

How do we practice seeing each other?
Seeing each other’s gifts?
How do we practice this with each one we meet
as a way of welcoming others into community?

What makes us part of the Jesus community?

Our love makes us part of the Jesus community.
It’s not that we are saved. It’s not that we are good.
It’s not that we build a building. Or create churches.

Do you love me?

Our love makes us part of the Jesus movement.
And even when our love flags,
it is the transforming love of Jesus that shakes us to our core
and fulfills us.

We are made in God’s image.
Jesus acts this way until we believe it.

We came from God. We return to God.
And in the middle, God dwells within us.
And with us all.

Come and see!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s