What strikes me as I read today’s texts is that Jesus doesn’t stop appearing to us. Paul has said that “Last of all he appeared also to me.” And yet what about Ananias? The Lord appeared to Ananias, who responded with the traditional prophet’s response, “Here I am.” The Lord conversed with him and sent him to do something remarkable.
And what a remarkable disciple Ananias was! If someone came to town with a warrant for your arrest and possibly execution –simply because of your faith – how eager would you be to get within 50 feet of them? And yet Ananias cared for and healed this persecutor of the church – even called him brother. If that isn’t loving your enemies, I don’t know what is.
Love features prominently in our Gospel text as well. A chapter seemingly added on after the conclusion of John’s Gospel, as if to indicate that Jesus continues to be present to us. A feature of many resurrection stories is that Jesus isn’t always easily recognized. It’s worth remembering that both Jesus and Paul elude to the fact that the resurrected body will not be like the bodies we have now. In this story, it could seem like the reason is that Jesus was at a distance - except that after they were ashore, none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. Why would they even think to ask the question if the evidence of their eyes isn’t what told them it was the Lord. I suspect it’s not simply because John and Peter said so. Not unlike the Emmaus story though, there is a connection between recognition and a meal. For it was just after food was offered that the “Who are you?” question is raised.
There are very interesting echoes of previous moments in John’s Gospel’s here. They are at the Sea of Tiberius, where the miracle of the loaves and fishes took place, and in fact that’s what’s for breakfast. John’s gospel is the only Gospel that doesn’t explicitly have the institution of the Eucharist. Instead Jesus talks about how he is the bread of life elsewhere bedsides the Last Supper. Let’s note that – we’ll come back to it later.
For now, let’s talk about love. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Another interesting echo is there’s a charcoal fire, the kind of fire Peter was huddled by when he denied Jesus three times. This story is pretty clearly about Peter’s reconciliation. And being confronted with the mistreatment of someone you love can hurt. A lot. Because unfortunately, loving someone doesn’t guarantee you will always treat them well.
And so Jesus lets Peter know how he can treat Jesus like he loves him. He can feed his sheep. One needs to be very careful in John no to take things Jesus says literally. In fact in John’s gospel there are many stories where someone takes Jesus literally and he has to inform them he’s speaking of heavenly things.
It might be easy to simply see this challenge to feed his sheep as a call to charity. Or it might refer to Peter’s Bishopric, tending to the flock as one in authority. But alms and authority can easily become earthbound things. Here is where I will remind you that Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus might just be saying, “If you love me, feed my sheep with me.”
In many ways, that is what the Eucharist is. Feeding Jesus’ sheep with Jesus himself. This is why I cannot treat the Eucharist as a mere symbol. It is a symbol, but it is also much more. It is a way to love Jesus. To reverence, cherish and nourish yourself with him. Whatever your theology, even if you think you haven’t a mystic bone in your body, how might it change you to approach being fed by the Lord as if it was really him? As if it was how he wanted you to love him? Because if Paul’s story tells us anything, it’s that an encounter with the Lord can change you – quite dramatically!
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that all it takes to love Jesus is to eat his body and drink his blood. Think back to what Jesus asked of Ananias. To feed on Jesus is to feed on love beyond what our instincts tell us is safe.
You have no doubt heard that God is love. I feel that instinctively, and yet I also know that God is beyond anything we can understand. If God is more than love, transcends our limited grasp of love, what can we say of love?
It helps to think of Jesus as the incarnation of God’s love. We can know God is love by knowing Jesus. Knowing Jesus better is one reason why reading scripture is an essential part of a Eucharistic service. Especially if we listen with open minds, willing to hear something about him we might not have known before. You never really know everything about someone. In a recent visit with my ex, whom I lived with for 20 years, I discovered things I didn’t know about her before.
One thing I’ve noticed recently is that Jesus’ intimacy with his Abba was blasphemous at the time. God was the wholly other, unapproachable, all but the high priest were barred from the Holy of Holies, and even he was only permitted there once a year.
Jesus dearly loved the wholly other. Is it then any surprise that Jesus loved all the human “others” he came across? Might that not be a way to feed Jesus sheep? To show his love to those we think of as “other?”
Because the Eucharist doesn’t really end after the service. We are sent out at the end to love and serve the lord. Feeding Jesus to others doesn’t have to be an invitation to the Eucharist, doesn’t have to be spreading the Good News, though certainly if it seems appropriate, by all means do so. I would suggest that the more demanding way of feeding Jesus to others is to love beyond your instinct to love.
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)