So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord."
This final resurrection appearance of Jesus in John appears to many scholars to be an addition to the original Gospel, for various reasons, but mainly because it seems to draw to a close at the end of the previous chapter.
For the reader of the Gospel, the effect is as though the narrator had tied things up and then thought, “O, there’s just one more story that I must tell. They need to know this also.” This is the attitude of a lover, who wants to tell you all the wonderful qualities of the one he loves and can’t resist telling you just one more thing. Just when you think he’s finished he starts up again: “If you are to get a full picture of the one I love, you must know this also.” This is the disposition of the beloved disciple, to whose vision the Gospel of John wishes to remain faithful, the one for whom Jesus had such affection, who reclined on his breast, and whose relationship with him was the most intimate of all the disciples. The lover sees things about the one he loves that others pass by. For the lover every detail is interesting and stands out as unique. John knows the Lord so intimately because he loves him in faith, which illumines his love with supernatural understanding.
In this scene seven disciples are listed, a perfect number. As such, these represent not just themselves but the whole of the disciples. Together in the boat, they represent the “bark of Peter”, the Church. Five are identified and two remain anonymous. As in any particular historical period of the Church, we have a number of disciples who are known to all, and then those who live out their faith in anonymity, yet who have freely chosen to follow Peter into the boat, to venture out into the sea, into the new, the unknown, in unity, obedience and love. These all cast the net with Peter and the others, and help to draw in the fish, each with the unique commission entrusted to them. In the Holy Father’s vision of the Synodal way, these anonymous disciples are to have a voice and shape the Church just as the others.
Peter, accompanied by the rest of the disciples, goes fishing. They are out all night but catch nothing. At dawn, Jesus is standing on the shore and opens a conversation with them. They follow his instructions and, as a result, they catch such a large number of fish that they are unable to pull in the net.
At this point, “the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ Peter tucks in his garment and jumps into the sea. Here Peter and the beloved disciple act in perfect unity.
Yet, it is significant that it is the disciple whom Jesus loved who first recognizes that the man on the beach is the Lord. For to come to know something, we must love, it is necessary that we be moved by love. It is love that pushes us toward faith and knowledge, that opens up the soul, that readies it for this new thing that offers itself for this encounter. It is love that is able to take a particular sequence of events and perceive their interconnectedness, that is able to see things in the light of being and transmit that light to others. In this passage, as in others, it is the beloved disciple who recognizes something, and then passes it on to Peter, who, as first among the apostles, representing the official side of the Church, takes this information, weighs it, and comes to a judgment.
In the previous chapter, when Mary Magdalen ran from the empty tomb and went to Peter and “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” to report the news, both ran together but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He respects Peter’s primacy by letting him go in first. Peter examines the particular details regarding the empty tomb, the linen cloths, and the face cloth. Then the other disciple also went in “and he saw and believed”. It is love that is able to make this quick synthesis and arrive at once at faith and knowledge. Love runs faster than office and arrives at the conclusion more quickly and more surely than office, whose task it is to examine, ponders, consults, weigh and discern.
It is all-important that this love from which the other disciple acts does not have its source in himself. He is the one whom the Lord loves. He loves from the Lord’s love. His faith and knowledge are a gift that comes from the intimate relationship he has with the Lord. This will be the role of the beloved disciple in all his manifestations throughout the Church’s history. Out of this consummate fullness that is his through the Lord’s love, the beloved disciple will function again and again to activate the official Church and set it into motion.
In her meditations on this verse, Adrienne von Speyr treats the relationship between the beloved disciple and Peter as an archetypal example of the relationship between “love” and “office” in the Church.
“For the Church, the Lord’s becoming present lies necessarily in the coming together of the mutual necessity and dependency between love and office. This is a mystery of his free determination; because he wills love and office, he is thus to be found where office and love meet. Wherever these two come together, one can be sure that the Lord abides with them; and where the Lord abides, one can be sure that office and love come together. All this has shown what the Church ought to be: the synthesis of office and love in the Lord. And therefore the Lord also expects of his Church that the two should meet in him again and again.” (The Birth of the Church: Meditations on John 18-21, p. 309)
It seems to me that Pope Francis’ initiative of the synodal way is precisely a response to Lord’s expectation that love and office should meet in him again and again, so that he may be this unity for the Church, that he may be present to her and through her be present to the world, which is in such desperate need of his presence.
From the perspective of today’s Gospel, in the Synodal Way, the Holy Father would be asking God’s people, as believers, to be as the beloved disciple and announce to him, “It is the Lord”, wherever they see the Lord present, yet perhaps unrecognized. This is a call to deep conversion. Since we are sinners, our hopes and desires, in their limited perspectives and horizons, need to be lifted up into the Lord’s own perfect unity of love and office by a process of discernment that is similar to what happens in the offering of the bread and wine in the Eucharist. There the priest blesses the elements he has received from the assembly by sacrificing them. He thereby gives them the highest thing that a man can give. He consecrates them to God, leaving them free so that they might become the body of the Lord. Inasmuch as they are given back to the Father in faith and sacrifice, offered in a way that the Father expects, the Father can give them back again, transformed into the living form of his Son.
This is indeed a lofty goal. If it is to have any hope of success, we are all called to be conformed to the beloved disciple and, like him, submit our love to Peter. Peter, on the other hand, and all his representatives, must never be office alone, but must also bear in themselves the love of the beloved disciple, for only love recognizes love. We see here the significance of the Lord’s insistent repetitive questions posed to Peter. Three times he asks, “Do you love me more than these?” The Lord must come first. “Feed my lambs.” “Do you love me?” “Tend my sheep.” “Do you love me?” “Feed my sheep.” Without love Peter would never be able to discern the voice of love. Jesus never asks Peter about his skills as an administrator, or his capacity to gather and distribute information. Even more, we cannot exempt ourselves from what the Lord demands of Peter, that is, to submit to the grace to be willing to be conformed to him in his passion and death.
In my opinion, this is all extremely important for the success of the Synodal Way. When office comes to discern the voices that come to it from the faithful, it must receive them with the heart and eyes of the beloved disciple and present them to the Father in such a way that they may come back from the Father in the form of the Son. Office, at every step of the way, must bear in itself the unity of love and office and be able to recognize and say, “It is the Lord.” So that the Lord may look at his Church and say, “This is my body.”
As we begin this month of May, dedicated to our Blessed Mother, let us call upon her assistance in this great venture.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Sunday's homily by Father Timothy.