"Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him."
Today’s gospel begins with two disciples on their way to Emmaus, a city some seven miles from Jerusalem. Christ has just recently been crucified, and the two men are walking and talking about the terrible events that have come to pass. There is a haunting quote about this journey to Emmaus by the writer Frederick Buechner:
Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred: that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that men have had-ideas about love and freedom and justice-have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish men for selfish ends. (Frederick Buechner, Magnificent Defeat, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1985).
And that is where Jesus finds these two forlorn gentlemen, on the road to Emmaus-a road each of us knows well in our lives-a road filled with frustration and doubt. It shouldn’t be lost upon us that Jesus comes to his disciples as they are journeying further into their sadness and disbelief at the loss of their Lord. How annoyed they must have been when this stranger (Jesus) approaches who does not seem to be aware of the recent tragedy.
Now there are a ton of theological lessons in this gospel that I am wholly unqualified to discern. Jesus gives the two quite a lecture on what was prophesied in the Jewish scriptures. There is an important reminder about the necessity of Jesus suffering, not to mention the fact that Jesus appears literally as these two are "gathered" in His name.
But there are two things that strike me most about this reading and what it means in my life. The first is the inability of the disciples to recognize Jesus. The passage says nothing about Jesus being in disguise or working some miracle to prevent them from recognizing him. But wrapped up in their own fear, confusion and dejectedness, there was no way they could see Christ. They were, for all intents and purposes, blinded to his presence.
What’s even more startling-Christ was right there, in the flesh, walking and talking with them! He is our true companion. And He is present most especially at those low times in our lives when we don’t know where to turn. Finally, this is not some theoretical presence. He comes to us in concrete ways-perhaps even in people he may bring into our lives who we cannot recognize as Christ. We must open not just our eyes, but our hearts and minds in order to see.
Finally, Christ is revealed to the men as they sit and Jesus breaks bread and blesses it. This is when their eyes are opened! When we are at a low point, do we seek Christ in the Eucharist? Do we take this great gift for granted, that we are given the privilege of sharing in the body of Christ? Once the disciples recognized Jesus in their midst, he vanished from sight. But the miracle is that we know He was and is truly still present.
Marlo Serritella is on staff at the Holy Cross Province Development Office in Chicago.