Last Sunday’s Gospel account was about the disciples who were huddled in the Upper Room behind locked doors out of fear, and Jesus’ appearance among them. Today’s Gospel account is about another appearance of Jesus, this time with other disciples who were dejectedly walking from Jerusalem to a nearby hamlet called Emmaus.
St. Augustine along with others of the Fathers of the Church suggest that Jesus didn’t want the disciples to recognize Him right away, that He wanted them to recognize Him in “the breaking of the bread.” Moreover Jesus, they believed, wanted the disciples to see and understand what the Jewish prophets had foretold in Scripture about how the Messiah was to be recognized. Hence Jesus spent some significant time opening up the Scriptures so they might see them in a new light, His light, and then recognize Him.
We can easily overlook the importance Jesus placed on Scripture. He repeatedly spoke of it and quoted from it. We should recall that He was discussing it with the Jewish teachers and leaders when Joseph and Mary found Him as a boy in the Temple. Again and again He taught that He did not want to do away with the Jewish scriptures but rather wanted to fulfill all that was found in the teachings of the prophets.
We find Jesus in today’s Gospel account again fulfilling what was written in the Old Testament about the Messiah. It must have been quit enlightening because at the end of today’s episode we hear the disciples exclaim: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” [Luke 24:32]
As an aside I want to point out here that the Catholic Church is often accused of not relying on scripture. Catholics are told that their Church doesn’t feed them and nourish them with the bible. We should note, however, that each and every celebration of the Mass is divided into the two principal parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word always begins with a passage from the Old Testament followed by a reading from one of the Epistles and then a Gospel reading. How can it be said that the Catholic Church doesn’t nourish you with God’s Word from Scripture? Note, too, that there is always a thematic connection, a connection of ideas, between the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading.
To me, the thing that is the most important point in today’s account revolves around how the disciples came to recognize Jesus. We find this group of disciples at first failing to recognize Jesus and then in the end coming to recognize Him. What happened? Why did they at first think He was a stranger and later come to realize who He really was?
You and I have had the experience of hearing what someone is telling us but not really listening to what they are saying. Similarly we have had the experience of seeing someone, looking at them, but not recognizing them for who they really are. This can be due to our own inattentiveness, or it can be due to the fact that the one we are looking at doesn’t want to be recognized in the way we expect.
What we’re talking about here is God’s way of reveling Himself to us. This is not simply a matter of blindness vs. sight; it’s about revelation and understanding.
You and I are much like those disciples on the road to Emmaus talking as they were about all of the terrible events they had experienced during the previous days in Jerusalem, about the betrayal of Judas, the hatred the religious authorities held against Jesus, and perhaps even about Pilate’s question: “Truth? What is truth?”
We need to, as they needed to, pay attention to whether we are hearing what people tell us vs. really listening to what they are saying. Additionally, we need to ask whether we are seeing those around us without recognizing who they really are.
We are presently living in dark times. We are awash in changes. Tsunami-like changes are sweeping over us as we begin this new millennium, drowning us under a deluge of fears. On the economic side of things, globalization is taking away our jobs; the mortgage mess is eroding our economy while reducing our home values; our savings accounts are being depleted, and the value of the dollar is plummeting as energy costs soar.
All of these events have a major effect on our feelings and emotions, particularly the feelings of fear that can hold us hostage. In the social arena we face problems such as the wave of illegal immigrations, racism, major leakage from church attendance, and our changing understanding of what it means to be a family. We all need to pause, to reflect, and ask ourselves what we are really hearing and what we are really seeing.
We are much like those disciples walking along on the road to Emmaus, concerned over the events in our lives. What brought them to recognize Jesus was “the breaking of the bread.” Their minds were immediately taken back to the Upper Room and the Last Supper, connecting that with the broken and bloody body of Jesus hanging on His cross.
Can we learn to recognize Jesus in human brokenness? That’s the key; that’s what opens our eyes to His presence among us. When we encounter people with broken hearts, Jesus is there. When we try to offer comfort to someone with a broken spirit, Jesus is there. When we encounter someone who is experiencing loss, pain, and suffering, Jesus is there. Isn’t that what Jesus was telling us when He taught us about the judgment we will receive when we die? He will ask us if we recognized Him in human brokenness: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”[Matthew 25:35-36]
The mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection isn’t something that simply took place long ago. No. It is on-going; it is going on in our days. True, we live in times when men and women have sinned, and our own sins have obscured the face of Christ. At times He is not recognized in our world and at times even when He is recognized there are many who seek to get rid of Him. Nailing Him to the Cross is something that is still happening
But it is there that He reveals Himself. It is in suffering and broken humanity that He is present. It is there that He is to be revered. And it is from there that we receive the promise of Easter – resurrection and new life.
We are all walking our own roads through life. Can we — will we — like the disciples, recognize that Jesus is walking with us? Will we recognize Him in “the breaking of the bread”? [3rd Sunday of Easter- A]