On the first few Sundays after Easter Sunday we are treated to a variety of cases of mistaken identity. Jesus appears to various people after returning from the dead and nobody recognizes him—at least right away. As holy as these reintroductions were, Jesus must have been having at least a little fun with his loved ones—especially Thomas, whom we discussed in our last blog. Jesus deserved the private celebrations that came as a result of these moments, just as his loved ones needed them. But it was mankind’s failure to recognize Jesus for who he was in the first place that led to Calvary and the cross.
“The author of life you put to death,” Peter says in our first reading from Acts. “Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did; … Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”
Few knew who Jesus really was—for sure. Those who did were there when he died: his mother and the disciple he loved. The others who were closest to him were going on faith, and that faith was shaken by his death. With his rising, the tables are turned. The question now becomes, will Christ recognize us when we appear before him?
Our second reading is from John, who speaks to us tenderly but gravely about making sure we do what’s necessary for God to recognize us as his own. Even if we say, “Yes, I recognize God in my life,” unless we understand and follow his teachings, we doom ourselves to be strangers.
“Those who say, ‘I know him,’ but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them,” John states. “But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.”
Not keeping Christ’s word in our hearts is passive denial, and in Matthew’s gospel Jesus explains how we make strangers of ourselves:
“Whoever denies me before men, I will also deny him before my Father in heaven.”
Maybe Jesus wasn’t having much fun with his back-from-the-dead appearances after all. Maybe he was disappointed his loved ones didn’t recognize him right away. As our gospel reading from Luke reports:
“They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then [Jesus] said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?”
Faith is the ultimate brand we wear on our hearts to be recognized as Christ’s.