Echo, echo, echo…
(By Rev Paul Graham)
Read John 21:1-17
Have you ever noticed that when you are thinking of buying a certain make or model of car you always seem to see them on the road? Or when you learn something new there is almost always a chance to put that information to the test immediately afterwards? The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is precisely this; your brain notices things that are at the forefront of your mind and draws your attention to them. Take the car example: you are thinking of buying a Renault Clio and suddenly everywhere you look, the roads are clogged with the little French runabout (or at least they used to be). The reality is that there are the same number of Clios on the road that there ever were, you’re just noticing them more. Hold that thought…
It was the American baseball legend Yoggi Berra who once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Reading John 21 we find a couple of instances that might have felt familiar to the disciples and certainly read like déjà vu to us.
For a start, the scene plays out in much the same way as the calling of the first disciples in Luke’s gospel (chapter 5:1-11). Jesus is on the shore of Lake Galilee; the fishermen are in the boat unable to catch fish. Through Jesus’ intervention, the men catch more fish than they expected.
In verse 13, Jesus repeats the actions of the feeding of the 5000 from early in his ministry when we read that he “took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.” Later in the chapter, when Jesus and Peter are alone, Jesus asks Peter three times for a commitment of love. Echoing the three times that Peter had denied Jesus, we see the familiar pattern repeated, reinstating Peter as one of Jesus’ crowd.
But this is where a warning comes in – be careful that you don’t go all Baader-Meinhof on this.
For example, Jesus sharing the bread and fish – this might be a deliberate echo of the miracle feeding that John wants to draw our attention. Alternatively, it might just be that John is reminding us that as the host of the feast Jesus was just doing what every host would have been expected to do: make sure that everyone was served.
Another example is in the link between this story and Luke’s account of the first encounter between Jesus and his disciples. We might be right in drawing a parallel between them, but was that John’s intention? If so, why not tell us about this instead of leaving it up to Luke? The two gospel writers are unlikely to have made joint editorial decisions, so there is a danger of reading into John’s account something that was not the author’s purpose.
We’re on safer ground when it comes to the “feed my sheep/lambs” dialogue between Peter and Jesus. John records both denial and reinstatement in such detail as to draw our attention to the similarities, their significance and the grace-filled conclusion that Peter reaches. We are probably OK to draw on the significance of the two moments and the message of forgiveness that it still proclaims for us all today.
But what of now? What things have you seen during this current crisis that have highlighted your own experience of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon? Are you spotting rainbows everywhere now that they are becoming a much-needed encouragement in support of key workers and those on the front line? Is your eye naturally drawn to bottles of handwash on the shop shelves (when they’re in stock)? What other things are you noticing more now than you used to?
And what is God saying through all this and through this current crisis? Again, there’s a risk that we read significance into situations that don’t relate, or that we can over-theologize just because things seem to be more apparent. We see signs in the sky because we’re spending more time looking upwards. But are these signs of God, or are we attaching a meaning to them that isn’t there? We need to keep asking these critical questions of ourselves, of God and of the world around us. God is active, his Spirit is with us; it’s where, what and how that we can’t always grasp.
However, one advantage of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is that we can also become more aware of the positive things in life if they are at the forefront of our minds. Maybe we ought to be asking God to show us how his grace, his love and his mercy is demonstrated in the world today. Then we might be more aware of him in the everyday; after all, he did promise that he would stick around.