Appearing to Vanish
By Rev. Matthew H. Zuberbueler
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus' disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
He asked them, "What are you discussing as you walk along?" They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?" And he replied to them, "What sort of things?" They said to him, "The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see."
And he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?" So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, "The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!" Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Jesus had a close friendship with His disciples and was constantly teaching them and forming them. He prepared them for His impending death and resurrection. He tried to prepare them, anyway. It is evident that they didnít like the idea of Him having to suffer and die. And it is clear that before the Resurrection, they didnít know what to make of the idea. Once He was raised from the dead, we can see that it took the disciples some time ó and much attention from Him ó to process such a momentous occurrence.
The Resurrection appearances have a mysterious quality about them. The disciples donít recognize Him right away. In some instances He makes a point to make it obvious who He is (by showing them His wounds, or by calling Mary Magdaleneís name as only He could). In other instances, He seems to be content to conceal His identity. The story of the road to Emmaus is such a case. When He upbraids the disciples for being slow to believe and recognize, they still donít make the connection. It seems amazing that they donít ask who this well-informed traveler is, even while their hearts are on fire with love and enthusiasm for the truths He presents to them.
Jesus wanted to convey the broader meaning and context of the Resurrection. He was immediately at work to teach them the new way He would be among them. This new way is the only way we have ever known. For His disciples, though, it was possibly less expected than His Resurrection. For them and for us, it is something real. Our return to Emmaus this Sunday should help us embrace again the special way Jesus stays with us.
If we can imagine ourselves going to Mass at a time when we are particularly troubled or upset we might recognize an important reality related to the Resurrection. While we pray at Mass, listening to Godís holy Word, we find that He comes alongside us, inviting us to share with Him the things that are on our minds: "What are you discussing as you walk along?" He invites us to find meaning in the situations of our lives by seeing them in the context of His Death and Resurrection.
To paraphrase St. Jerome, we can say familiarity with Scripture is familiarity with Christ, and this can begin at Mass. Jesus walks with us and teaches us as we walk. In such a blessed walk we can find answers, solutions, strength, consolation, wisdom, peace ó and anything else we might need. In such a blessed walk we wonít be upset if He points out that weíve been slow to recognize Him or His will or His way in the events of our last week.
The Seven Mile Walk to Emmaus Story equips us to anticipate help from Jesus when we attend Mass (and when we go about our daily journeys). It helps to remember, as well, that the two disciples in the Emmaus story only recognized who He was when He broke the bread with them at dinner (or better said, supper). We have the advantage of their experience. Even so, knowing that He is present with us as we pray His Word will only make us better attuned to the even more profound way He will make Himself known to us in Holy Communion. How can we fail to learn something from Him and about Him at each Mass? How is it that people young and old stop attending Mass because they ďdonít get anything out of itĒ? How foolish and slow of heart we can be.
The Risen Jesus had the means to open their eyes, to be readily recognizable to them. The Gospels show clearly that He had good reasons to employ what can seem like a mysterious concealment. He allowed the moment of recognition by the two disciples walking to Emmaus to be during the breaking of the bread. In these moments, we can see that He places a great value on our learning to recognize the life-changing reality of His Real Presence among us in an invisible, sacramental way.
This new way shouldnít seem so new to us. We can learn to value it like He does.
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index