“Full Name Please”
John 21: 1-19
Rev. Tasha Blackburn
May 10, 2020
In this last scripture of the last gospel, we get a conversation that includes someone’s full name. The one who is being called by his full name is Peter and the one doing the calling of the name is Jesus. If you remember how these two met, it was way back in John chapter 1. Peter’s brother Andrew was already hanging out with Jesus when he brought along his brother one day. We read that Andrew introduced them and Jesus immediately said, “Great. I’m going to call you Rock (which is Peter) instead.” And that is what he did from then on. It must have caught on because everyone calls him Peter or Simon Peter from then on. It is Simon Peter’s feet Jesus washes; it is Simon Peter who asks directions as they move from place to place; it is Simon Peter who pulls a sword and wants to fight the guards; Simon Peter, Simon Peter, Simon Peter—that’s what they call him.
But now, here at the end, it is his full name that is used, “Simon, son of John,” Jesus says. How appropriate to have this on Mother’s Day since mothers from the beginning of time know what it is to call a child by their full name. At the very least, hearing his full name, Peter has got to know something is up.
In this moment on the short, there is a lot happening. Peter is being commissioned and Jesus is winding down any final resurrection appearances, forgiveness is being offered and received. But strip away all of that and this is a simple and intimate exchange between two best friends whose relationship has been terribly frayed.
We, of course, remember why it is frayed: it was Peter’s betrayal that divided them and left Jesus to suffer alone. Many of us can relate to this betrayal on one level or another. Here is an example: a friendship story that has it all: love, a disappearance, and breaking and entering.
It was sophomore year of high school and Kelly was my best friend. We did everything together, including pining after boys on the cross country team. One day after school, we plotted how to break into one of their team lockers. Our plan worked and there we were in the empty hallway with the contents of their locker spread all around us. Just about then we heard a noise and, horror of horrors, we looked and saw that the hallway was no longer empty. There in the distance was one of the members of the cross country team! At a distance, he spoke; moving closer, he shouted; then he began to run toward the two of us…or what I thought was the two of us. Looking around I saw that I was alone—Kelly had made a run for it—leaving me high and dry sitting in the evidence of our crime, the geometry textbooks, the team jackets, and Dwight Yokum CDs.
All of us have a similar story, a similar time: when a friend left us high and dry. Or we did the leaving. As betrayed as we may have been, as guilty as we may have felt, that is nothing compared to what has happened between Peter and Jesus. So perhaps Jesus uses Peter’s full name in rebuke. Believe me, I was ready to yell, “Kelly Lynn Malone, I could just kick you!” Maybe that is how we should read, “Simon, son of John…”
Not only is their friendship frayed. It is also fraught. There is such history there and that history carries its own weight. Jesus knows where Peter grew up, he knows his family—has spent the night at his parents’ house even—and knows how that heritage works itself out in Peter’s life. The relationship has weight to carry. It is fraught.
So maybe the full name is about that. Like when people meet my dad. The government knows him as James. His co-workers and his family know him as Jim. But every now and then, a friend knows him as Jimmy. There are only a few and, when they meet and “Well hello Jimmy” comes out of their mouths, the greeting carries history. Just the name they give him means they knew his parents and they know where he’s come from. They expect him to live up to something. And all of it is a weight between them.
Perhaps you have felt that weight from people as well. It could be the weight of great expectations that you will live up to your history. Or it could even be the weight of assumptions—that I know your background so I don’t expect much here. Maybe that is the way we should read, “Simon, son of John….” It carries the freight of “Jimmy.”
You might have noticed that we often refer to this congregation as a FAMILY of faith. We call ourselves the “church family,” we say we are brothers and sisters to each other. And we do that purposefully. Because we don’t choose our family. We are given to one another to learn to live with and grow into. And that is the Church. We are given to each other, not picked as if we serve on some common Board or have joined the same club. But in scripture there is also this other category. There is also friendship: not family, but friends.
While family is the powerful connector between us, perhaps it is friendship that is the powerful connector between us and Jesus, precisely because there is this piece of friendship that demands choice, like the rise of Friendsgiving celebrations. Have you heard about these? They are groups of people who either do not have family to celebrate with on Thanksgiving, or they would not choose to celebrate with family. Instead, they have Thanksgiving dinner with their friends: Friendsgiving. No matter the arrangement, Friendsgiving is all about choice. Friendship, inherent in it, says, “I choose you. I am not stuck with you or saddled with you. Instead, you are my friend. I choose you.”
And that is what Jesus does with us. He does not have to show up for us. He does not have to join us at our tables or work to mend the relationship between us. He does not have to do any of that. He chooses to. He chooses you to be his friend.
“Simon, son of John…” the full name could have had rebuke in it. And it could have had a reminder of where Peter came from. The best and longest friendships will have their moments of both. But I think using his full name was about something else as well. I think it was about recognition. “Simon, son of John,” Jesus says. “ I KNOW you. I know you through and through.” Jesus knows Peter completely and, in spite of what he knows, Jesus wants to be his friend. He knows Peter completely and, because of what he knows, Jesus wants to be his friend. On that shore, Jesus says, “With all that has come before and all that I see in you, you are a friend I choose.”
If you have even one friend who is at all like that in your life, I hope you will tell them so. One who knows your history, one who has courage enough to call you on your stuff, one who recognizes who you truly are and who still says, “You are a friend I choose.” Hopefully you have more than one of these friends in your life. Hopefully you have many. But I promise you that each of us has one. All of us have at least one, for what a friend we have in Jesus. Amen.