Not recognizing Jesus

When I read the Bible stories describing how Jesus appeared to His disciples after He had risen from the dead, I can feel some jealousy towards the disciples. Because of when and where they were born, they were fortunate enough to see the Risen Christ with their own two eyes. I only I had this experience my faith would never waver! I would fear nothing! I would have an unshakable hope in all that Jesus promises!

Whenever I start to think like this, an important detail from Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances as told in the Gospel of John brings me back to reality: the disciples were in the presence of Jesus but they did not recognize Him. First, Mary Magdalene is weeping at the tomb, thinking someone has taken away the body of Jesus. Jesus is standing right beside her, speaking with her, but she doesn’t recognize Him. She thinks He is the gardener. Later, while Peter and other disciples are fishing on the Sea of Tiberius, a man appears on the shore and gives them fishing advice. Again, they do not recognize that it is Jesus.

The peculiar fact that the disciples can be standing right next to the Risen Jesus and even speak with Him without realizing who He is, teaches us that their experience is not much different than us who live some 2000 years later. We are not at a disadvantage for having been born when and where we were. Like the disciples, the Risen Christ is always present, working in our life, but often we do not recognize Him.

Mary Magdalen only recognizes that the gardener is in fact Jesus when He calls her by name. Peter and the other disciples recognize that the man giving unsolicited counsel from the shore is in fact Jesus when the advice helps them bring in a miraculous catch of fish. If we are attentive, Jesus reveals Himself to us in similar ways. Like Mary Magdalene, we can hear Jesus call our name when we read scripture, when someone unexpectedly offers us a kind word of encouragement, or when we are struck by the beauty of nature. Like Peter and the other disciples in the boat fishing, Jesus shows Himself by blessing our actions in a way that is beyond our capabilities. For example, we are able to help someone or say something to them that blesses their life in a way that is far beyond the power of our action alone.

During the Easter Season we celebrate the fact that Jesus has truly risen from the dead. Each year, we remind ourselves that the Risen Jesus is very present in our own life, strengthening us and filling us with peace, hope and joy. This happens in proportion to our ability of recognizing the simple ways Jesus shows Himself to us each day. Take a moment to look back over the past week. What is one concrete event through which Jesus revealed Himself to you? Let us recognize these events often and give thanks for them, crying out like the disciples “it is the Lord!”