Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Church

Incarnation, Revelation or Disorientation
Why Didn’t They Recognize Jesus?

by Carol Howard Merritt

Gospel Reading: Luke 24:13-35

3rd Sunday after New Sunday (4th Sunday after Easter)

I was reaching for the handle of the lobby door when I saw the back of his head through the glass. I gasped for breath and my heart started beating faster. I was elated and scared all at the same time. The split-second sight of Phil touched an emotional response deep within me, and it took a couple more seconds for my intellect to catch up. My mind collided with my gut when Phil turned around.

It wasn’t him. It was someone else entirely. That made sense, and I felt better, even though the exhilaration drained from me.

I had been “seeing” Phil everywhere. Even though he had been dead for a month, I didn’t want to believe it. He committed suicide when he was so vital and strong. Phil was at the beating heart of every party, so I couldn’t quite imagine him, still and lifeless, in the bottom of that Jeep. When his life was cut short like that, it was so tragic that my head kept playing games on me. I would recognize him in a crowd moving onto the elevated train, or he would be standing at the back of the bus during rush hour, or he would be waiting in the lobby of our apartment building. Just as quickly as I would recognize him, his face would vanish and morph into another man’s visage.

Disorientating Grief

This time in my life always comes up when I read this passage of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. I imagine Jesus’ friends with that same trauma, the disorienting grief, not quite believing the reports of the women who bravely watched Jesus die. Then the men weren’t sure if they could believe the women when they said the tomb was empty either. The disciples seemed to be confused, afraid for their lives, missing their friend, and realizing that his life was cut short, along with their hopes for the Messiah.

Recognizing Jesus

Losing my friend and living through the bewilderment that followed, always makes me pause and wonder about this narrative. Why didn’t the disciples recognize Jesus? The gospel of John reports that Mary had a difficult time recognizing Jesus, and it was only after she heard her name on his lips that she realized he wasn’t the gardener. Thomas longed for the extra confirmation of feeling Jesus’ torn flesh. And here, Jesus is having a long conversation with two of his disciples. Even after hearing him for such a long time, even after the strange warming in their hearts, they didn’t recognize him.

Uncertainty & Incarnation

Does this uncertainty tell us about Jesus’ incarnation? Was there something about Jesus’ resurrected body that made him unidentifiable? The stories tell us that he was appearing in locked rooms and vanishing before the disciples’ eyes. Clearly, there was something different about Jesus’ flesh and blood.

Does the fact that the disciples did not recognize Jesus point to the nature of the revelation of God? Could it be that God could not be identified unless God reveals Godself?

Or is this passage telling us something about us? Is it showing us the nature of grief and how disorienting it can be? Kathryn Johnston, a pastor at Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church, explained her answer in a tweet to me this way, “When grief and the dark of the valley engulf you, you cannot even see Jesus in front of your face. He’s there. Just. keep. walking.”

The Hardest Question

What do you think? Why couldn’t they recognize him?

Comment:

by Pete Chung

As I read your thoughtful blog, it is really difficult at coming to a nice, easy answer to your question. As I was thinking about that question however, I am drawn to look more closely at how Mary, Cleopas, Thomas and the others who had difficulty recognizing Jesus finally came to recognize him. With all of them they come to recognize through a reminder of what Jesus actually DID, not said.

In this passage Jesus opens up the scriptures to Cleopas and his companion and yet they don’t recognize until Jesus broke the bread. I’m guessing they were there when Jesus broke the bread before he was crucified. It seems to me they intimately recognized what Jesus was doing, perhaps because Jesus is the only one that does it that way, or Jesus did it they way he always had done it.

Same with Mary, she recognizes Jesus when he says her name. Just like a child recognizes the voice and the tone and the pitch of a mother’s/father’s voice, it seems perhaps Mary understood immediately when Jesus called her name, only as He did. I’m guessing Mary’s intimate relationship with Jesus and his calling of her name, his recognizing of her is what immediately allows her to recognize.

Thomas asks the right questions, wanting to prove Jesus by the scars and the remnants of the crucifixion, because that sets Jesus apart from anyone else, only Jesus would have the scars He did, the pierced holes not only in his hands but also in his side.

The others disciples in Luke recognize Jesus through his eating of food, a strong theme and element through Luke’s Gospel.

Lastly, I look at the final verse of John for the greatest insight. Chapter 21 chronicles Peter’s journey from being a beaten and worn-down fisherman to being called to God’s kingdom work by Jesus. All the events of that morning happen in a way in which Peter would recognize. They happen at key places where Peter would undoubtedly have memories (very poignant memories at that). One of the greatest verses is the one which says Jesus was cooking by a charcoal fire. The only other place this word is used in all of the NT is a few chapters earlier when Peter is heating his hands by the charcoal fire–right before he denies Jesus three times. It seems to me that Jesus is purposely trying to bring Peter “through the fire” in recognizing who he is, his mistakes, that the great calling he will receive is not by his works but all through Christ.

Perhaps just mere “seeing” isn’t believing.. but it is seeing action, hearing intimacy that allows us to recognize Jesus. After all, we are called to be Christ’s hands and feet… to understand what He would have us do in this world. In this way, would we be recognized as those who follow Christ, not simply by what we say (or don’t say) regarding God, but truly by what we are willing to do… intimately calling the name of those who are broken, sharing meals with all who need it (not necessarily deserve it), showing our scars and imperfections rather than hiding all that is “wrong” with us in favor of that which is great… as we humbly try to be Jesus’ humble hands and feet–that is how others will recognize that we indeed are Christ’s disciples.

How amazing to hear Jesus’ intimate calling of our names, to feel his scars and holes with our own hands, to receive the bread only as Jesus can break it. As a musician once said, “faith isn’t believing what God will do but believing what God has already done.”

Source: The Hardest Question Blog

See Also:

Into Remembrance (Luke 24:13-35)
by Matthew T. Phillips

Our Road to Emmaus
by David Lose

On the Road to Emmaus
by Rev. Fr. John Thomas Alummoottil

Emmaus Experience - Devotional Thoughts for 4th Sunday after Easter
by Rev. Fr. Mathew C. Chacko

The Risen Christ on the Road to Emmaus
by Rev. Fr. P.C. Eapen

Devotional Thoughts for 3rd Sunday after New Sunday
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril

Sermon on Luke 24: 13-35
by Progressive Involvement

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