Today the disciples once again encounter the risen Christ and they still do not grasp the reality of the resurrection. This time they think they are seeing “a ghost.” There are several other scriptural accounts where individuals fail to recognize the risen Christ. We have the account of last Sunday with Thomas who just would not believe without evidence. We have the story of Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus who did not recognize him as he walked with them. Even as they stopped for the evening and he opened the scriptures for them; their hearts were burning within them but they still did not know it was Christ. Mary Magdalene when she encountered him thought him to be a gardener. We have the story of Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and two other unnamed disciples who after several appearance of Christ seem to give up hope and they return to their boats in Galilee. It is there while they were fishing that Jesus once more appears to them on the shore and again they do not recognize him until he fills their nets with fish.
Account after account of Jesus appearing to his followers and yet amazingly they do not recognize him; or they could not accept him as risen. Because of their inability to understand the resurrections meaning their reaction was one of fright or total disbelief. What were they to do with this resurrected messiah? What are we to do with this resurrected Messiah?
What is it that made the difference in their finally beginning to come to grips with the resurrection? More importantly, what are we to learn about our own faith journey and how we are to respond to his knocking on our door? One lesson for us to learn is that it is probable that Jesus will be unrecognizable to us even when he is right before us? Most of us are too caught up in ourselves and our defining how Jesus fits into our day to recognize his appearing.
Scripture does not tell us what the disciples were doing in that upper room after Jesus’ death. We do know from other scripture passages that the disciples were hiding in that room for fear that they too would be crucified. In our gospel story today, the disciples were discussing the encounter of Jesus with Cleopas and his companion. Cleopas had told the disciples how he came to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
I would imagine Cleopas started telling the story from the beginning with how Jesus had walked with them for the better part of a day. I imagine Cleopas talked about how they were discouraged because “what they had hoped for” was no longer possible. I would imagine they told the disciples how he explained the prophetic scriptures to them and how their hearts burned within them as he spoke.
Then they revealed what opened their eyes to now connect the prophecies with him as risen. Perhaps the lesson we are to learn is that our ability to recognize Christ is not as easy as we might think. We can do various spiritual things without ever opening ourselves to the presence of Christ. We can and often do fail to respond to him because we are caught up in doing and not listening. We have become busy Martha’s in our spiritual lives and Jesus reminds us that Mary has chosen the better part. I believe seeing Jesus has more to do with us seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit instead of doing. Jesus did tell us in that upper room that the Spirit will “Glorify him’ and will teach and remind us of everything he said and did.
We do know that in every story of his resurrection appearances Jesus speaks to and only after he speaks are eyes opened to revelation. When he first appears to the eleven he speaks to them saying “Peace be with you” and they respond. A second time he appears with Thomas among then and he speaks to Thomas and he responds. He spoke to Mary Magdalene, calling her name and she responds. He spoke to the disciples as they were in that boat fishing and they respond.
He spoke to Cleopas and his companion for the better part of a day and their hearts began to burn within them. Christ is speaking to us in the prayers of our liturgy, in the sacraments we receive, in all the things offered to us in order for us to encounter Christ and have our heart burn within us.
Christ is always coming to each of us and one day you will have a sudden mystical moment with Christ. It is then you will find that Christ has been with you for your entire spiritual journey. It will be during that encounter that you will understand the events of your life in a new way. You will see how those past events caused you to hide like the disciples. You will also begin to see how those good and bad events prepared you for what God is calling you to do for the kingdom.
I can assure you that one day each of us will have a revelation of Christ where we will acknowledge him as Lord. Scripture is absolutely clear about this when it tells us “every knee will bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phl. 2:10). When that mystical moment happens our reaction will be just the same as those in these gospel stories who saw him. We will not be able to contain the news that we have seen the Lord.
These gospel stories about encountering the risen Christ are not just stories about disciples who lived 2000 years ago. They are stories about us and how Christ is always, every day, every moment and in all circumstances walking with us and speaking to us about what his death and resurrection means for us.
As believers, we need to ask ourselves one question – are we the disciples we see at the beginning of that journey who cannot see or understand what his resurrection means. Or are we the disciples of the end of the story who must share the good news of forgiven sin and eternal life?