Fishing all night on the Sea of Tiberias, the disciples drew up nothing but empty nets. Still incredulous over the astounding events of the past few days, they probably had wanted to engage in some familiar activity in order to ground themselves in some accustomed reality, to give themselves a chance to reflect upon what they had so recently experienced. But they could never just pick up where they had left off before meeting Jesus, so their attempt to return to their old way of life was necessarily fruitless. On the advice of a stranger standing on the shore, however, they cast their nets once more and made a catch worthy of the most extravagant “fish story.” So the disciple whom Jesus loved exclaimed to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (Jn 21:7).
How did the Beloved Disciple recognize the Lord? Jesus was a hundred yards away, so he couldn’t see his features. Even if he could, Scripture implies that after Jesus’ resurrection one couldn’t always tell who He was, even by looking Him in the face. Once on shore, “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’, for they knew it was the Lord” (Jn 21:12). It would have been pointless for the evangelist to make such a statement if Jesus was immediately and physically recognizable to them, as He had been before his resurrection. This phenomenon is even more explicit in Mark: “he appeared in a different form to two of them, as they were walking into the country” (16:12). So Jesus didn’t always look like Jesus once He rose from the dead.
The risen Christ was recognized by the miracle He performed. It was upon seeing the unexpected catch of fish that John exclaimed to Peter that it was the Lord. Therefore, says the Scripture, John knew it was Jesus. We learn, then, that it is not necessary to see Jesus with our bodily eyes to be aware of his presence and activity in the events of our lives. We just need to read the signs and credit Him with the wonders. Blessed are those who believe without seeing, but who can perceive and recognize the divine presence by faith and spiritual awareness. This is important for our sacramental life, in which Jesus is present in various forms. These are the “mysteries of faith,” and as we grow in faith, we “see” more clearly and “contact the mystery,” which, as Blessed John Paul II said, is of the essence of faith.
When we live by faith we realize that our lives are governed by Providence and not by chance. In the Christian world-view, God is not far away but ever-present to our needs and concerns, responding with a generosity that can only be called divine. Have you received a blessing? It is the Lord: “Blessed be God…who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing…” (Eph 1:3). Have you ever been treated with compassion or received any consolations? It is the Lord, “the Father of mercies and God of all consolation…” (2Cor 1:3), working directly or through others. Have you received gifts or had any good experiences? It is the Lord, for “every gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17). Jesus is standing on the shore, trying to direct our labors on the sea of life, and if we obey his word we will discover unexpected treasures and recognize that they all come from Him.
“We walk by faith, not by sight” (2Cor 5:7). Jesus is with us always, but we have to look for Him with eyes of faith. Often He appears “in a different form,” as He did to the disciples on their way to Emmaus, who recognized Him only “in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35). In the Holy Eucharist the Lord appears to us in a different form. He doesn’t look like Jesus; He looks like bread and wine. But when I stand at the holy altar and see the consecrated Gifts, I dare not ask, “Who are you?”, for I know it is the Lord.
Our spiritual senses need to be sharpened if we are to experience the enrichment of life that God wills to grant us through his constant loving activity in and around us. We can leave the complete and visible manifestation of his glory to the Last Day. For now let us live by faith, with the sensitivity it gives us to “see” the Lord in his works, to know his presence in sunsets and sacraments, in little signs and great wonders. Then we can, with conviction and joy, bring the message to others: “It is the Lord!”