“You don’t recognize me, do you?” the beautiful woman behind the deli counter asked.
Studying her face, I wracked my brain for some hidden memory that would tell me who she was. I shook my head. “I’m really sorry, but, no, I don’t. How do I know you?”
“We went to school together,” she answered, and then proceeded to tell me her maiden name. I tried not to let it show, but inside I thought, “Really?” I just couldn’t see the resemblance to the mental picture I had of my classmate.
In Luke 24:13-35 we read the account of two followers of Jesus who experienced a similar moment. They are walking along, talking of recent tragic events, when a man joined them on their journey. At the time they didn’t recognize who the man was, but later realized it was Jesus.
Isn’t that so like us? Even those of us who have loved and been committed to Christ for years don’t always recognize him as he walks alongside of us. Why is that?
Perhaps it’s for the same reasons the two men on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus, and why I didn’t recognize my friend Donna from high school:
- They weren’t expecting to see Jesus at all. Remember, they thought he was dead. I wasn’t expecting to see my friend—it had been years since we had run into each other and we were miles from our hometown. Similarly, although we, as Christians, often remind one another that Jesus is always with us, we are surprised when we recognize evidence that he really IS.
- Jesus didn’t look like they anticipated he would look if they did see him. They didn’t expect a person who died three days earlier from crucifixion to look whole and healthy. My friend Donna, by her own admission, had changed a lot physically. Equally, when Jesus is in our midst, he sometimes appears in the hands of a friend, the hug of a loved one, the smile of a stranger. We don’t identify him in these forms.
- Jesus wasn’t where they thought he would be. My guess is they thought Jesus was still in the tomb, not walking along the road. I thought Donna was still back in our hometown, or at least near there. Sometimes Jesus isn’t where we expect either. Yes, he’s there in church and Bible study, but although we don’t spot him, he is also in the grocery store, the doctor’s office, or walking a trail.
- Jesus didn’t do what they thought he would do. The men on the Emmaus Road expected Jesus to know what had been happening in Jerusalem. They expected him to say, “Hey guys! It’s me—Jesus!” I didn’t expect Donna to be working in a deli. She was always very pretty and very popular. I guess I expected she would be a model or a fashion designer. Somehow my delusions of grandeur had carried over from my teen years. Likewise, Jesus doesn’t always do what we think he will or should do. At times, he allows us to face challenges we don’t want to face. There are often circumstances where we think he should intervene and to us, it appears that he doesn’t. Consequently, we don’t grasp that he IS present.
So how do we sharpen our God-sighting abilities? I think Father Thomas Keating, in his book, The Mystery of Christ, gives us four steps to improving our spiritual vision: “Like the disciples of Emmaus, we, too, have our own ideas of Jesus Christ, his message and his church. We, too, are conditioned by our upbringing, early education, culture and life experience. The disciples could not recognize Jesus as long as their mindsets about who he was and what he was to do were in place. When Jesus demolished their blindness with his explanation of the scriptures, their vision of him began to assume a more realistic tone. The price of recognizing Jesus is always the same: our idea of him, of the church, of the spiritual journey, of God himself has to be shattered. To see with the eyes of faith we must be free of our culturally-conditioned mindsets. When we let go of our private and limited vision, he who has been hidden from us by our pre-packaged values and preconceived ideas causes the scales to fall from our eyes. He was there all the time. Now at last we perceive his Presence. With the transformed vision of faith, we return to the humdrum routines and duties of daily life, but now, like Mary Magdalene, we recognize God giving himself to us in everyone and in everything.”
©2016 Pamela D. Williams