Recognizing Jesus: Lectionary Reflections on John 1:43-51
John's gospel affirms that The Good Shepherd knows his sheep and his sheep hear his voice. "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father." The sheep listen to the shepherd's voice (Jn. 10:14-16). The Prologue tells us that Jesus "came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him" (1:11). The Gospel of John has recognition and failure of recognition as a key theme. In a number of encounters with Jesus, people focus on their problems at a literal level while he stands, unrecognized, before them. For example, Nicodemus (chap. 3), the woman at the well (chap. 4) and the man by the pool of Bethzatha (chap. 5). Others do recognize him. Jesus was killed precisely because his enemies did recognize him. As his healings escalated in drama and power, so did his threat factor to those who opposed him. They recognized him as the bringer of sight to the blind (healing of the man blind from birth in chap. 10) and the raiser of the dead (Lazarus in chap. 11).
In the gospel of John, Jesus always recognizes us, but we do not always recognize him. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep—he recognizes who we were meant to be, children of God (1:12), in the tangle of our current lives. The goal of the gospel is to equip us to recognize his life within ourselves and the world. "These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (20:31). Our task is clear—with God's help, we are to enhance our facial recognition skills. Knowing Jesus is present in every moment, every person, every situation, we are to be on the lookout for him, recognizing his presence and influence throughout each day.
Dr. Wayne Dyer, in his PBS series "The Power of Intention," quotes Mother Teresa's answer when someone asked her, "What do you do all day walking the streets of Calcutta?" She said, "I behold Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God, in every face I see."
A well-known poem by Frank B. Whitney, founder of Daily Word magazine is a good guide to practicing our facial recognition skills.
I behold the Christ in You,
Here the life of God I see;
I can see a great peace too,
I can see you whole and free.
I behold the Christ in you.
I can see this as you walk;
I see this in all you do,
I can see this as you talk.
I behold God's love expressed,
I can see you filled with power;
I can see you ever blessed,
See Christ in you hour by hour.
I behold the Christ in you,
I can see that perfect one;
Led by God in all you do,
I can see God's work is done
After Jesus' resurrection, Mary does not recognize him in the garden, mistaking him for the gardener, until he calls her by name (20:16). He already knows her. They have met many times before. So an appropriate response from Mary would not be to put out her hand to shake his and to say, "Good morning. My name is Mary. I don't believe we've met." An appropriate response for her and for us is, "I recognize you. I believe we have met many time before."
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.