Their Eyes Were Prevented From Recognizing Him

Today’s Gospel passage from Luke is a favorite of mine.  After Jesus’ death, two of his disciples are walking to Emmaus.  Although the Gospel doesn’t talk about the state they are in, we can imagine that they are sad, dejected, confused, scared.  All of their hopes that Jesus would be one to redeem Israel were dashed when He was arrested and put to death.  We know from what they later tell the man who “drew near and walked with them” that they’ve heard some tale about some women finding an empty tomb and a message from an angelic vision, but it is not clear they believe a word of it.

They converse with the man, not recognizing him and he explains the Scriptures to them.  When they get where they are going, they invite him to stay and eat with them, still not recognizing him.  But then, he takes the bread, says the blessing, breaks the bread and gives it to them.  “With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”  You can almost feel their joy and consolation when they recognize him.  And they excitedly run off (the Gospel says they “set off”, but you know they went running) to find their friends, recounting “what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” 

The question that obviously comes to mind is: why didn’t the disciples recognize Jesus?  Luke says that when Jesus walked up to them “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.”  What prevented them?  As I watch the scene unfold in my imagination, I imagine that they were so focused on their own grief and confusion that they don’t really see the man they are speaking to. (A bit like yesterday’s Gospel passage – where Jesus comes walking on the water toward the disciples’ boat. When they see the figure coming toward them, they are so filled with fear they do not recognize him until he speaks to them.)

Perhaps the more useful question for us is: what prevents us from seeing Jesus when he appears to us?  What blinds us to His presence?  What are we so focused on that we do not recognize Jesus, even when He is standing right there in from of us?

Looking for Miracles in All the Wrong Places

I just read a piece by Margaret Silf in America Magazine (as usual I’m behind in my magazine reading) that talks about miracles. Silf makes an interesting observation. Perhaps, she says, the problem we have with miracles “is that we try to get at them from the wrong end. We strive to see the end of the miracle – the great transformation, the unexpected cure, the new life where there was none before. But we very rarely notice the start of the miracle.”

Because we are looking in the wrong place, Silf continues, we fail to see the “almost invisible beginnings of the miraculous all around us.” In contrast, if we stop looking for the big, final, monumental thing we call a miracle, we will be able to see “for example, how a word of encouragement turns a whole life around from despair to hope or how an apparent misfortune can open our minds to fresh perspectives and change the direction of our lives.”

As I read her words, the thought that came was that if we just sit around looking for the big bang, we not only miss the first signs in front of our eyes, but we miss the opportunity to participate in the creation of miracles ourselves.

Sigh. Sure, there is a part of me that would like to say, “Hey God, how about a miracle here so no one is starving and no one goes to war and all those with diseases are cured, and….” It would sure make things a lot easier for us. But that is not the way it seems to work.

I had a bumper sticker on my car that read “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Perhaps the better message is, “Create the miracle you wish to see in the world.”

What Do You See?

That was the question asked by the speaker giving the reflection at at recent Taize service I attended. What do you see, he asked, when you look at the candles in the front of the church? What do you see when you look at the cross? What do you see when you look at the tabernacle? What do you see when you look at the faces of the people around you?

I was reminded of his talk when I opened a solicitation envelope last night that contained a bookmark. The bookmark included a quote by Teilhard de Chardin that read: “Our faith does not cause us to see different things, but to see things differently.”

What do you see when you look at the cross? A dead man who obviously suffered before his death? Or a symbol of the triumph over death?

What do you see when you look at the tabernacle? A closet for leftover bread? Or the real presence of Christ?

What do you see when you look around you in the pews? Some strangers? Or your brothers and sisters?

You can ask yourself the same question with respect to everything you see. And what you will discover is that looking with the eyes of faith makes all the difference in the world.

What the Blind Man Saw

Today’s Gospel is St. Luke’s account of Jesus healing a blind man. The man is sitting by the roadside begging and people tell him that “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He immediately shouts, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”, a cry he continues to shout out despite the efforts of those around him to shut him up.

As He so often does, when Jesus has the man brought before Him, He asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replies, “Lord, please let me see.” Jesus’ response tells us something important. He tells the man, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.”

Jesus restored the man’s physical sight, a wonderful gift for someone without the ability to see the sky, flowers and the faces of those around him. But even before the physical cure, the man had the more important sight – he had the ability to see Jesus for who He was, to know that Jesus was the source of his healing. His eyes may have been blind, but he had the sight of faith – and, as Jesus tells him, that is what saved him. The physical healing was just the icing on the cake.

St. Albert the Great, whose feast the Catholic Church celebrates today, talking about the need to contemplate and draw close to God, reminds us “not by his bodily organs or outward senses does a man attain to this.” Rather it is by our intenal sight.

May we have the sight of the blind man who recognized Jesus in his heart.

Seeing as God Sees

I was fascinated when I first heard what Michelangelo is reported to have said when asked how he crafted the masterpiece that is his David. He explained that he “chipped away at all that wasn’t David.” He said that he looked at the block of marble and saw in it the completed David; all he had to do was to “hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

This seems to me a good description for how God sees us. God looks at us and sees not what we are at this moment. Rather, he sees what we can be with his grace; he sees the potential for how he can shape us.

We don’t tend to see the way God does. We look and see people and things as they are. So we see limits. We see imperfections. We see flaws. We see what currently is and mistakenly think that is all it can be.

We need to remind ourselves of what can be accomplished with the grace of God. (A good person to reflect on for such a reminder is Peter; compare the bumbling person who tries to persuade Jesus away from his mission and then denies him three times, to the person in Acts who preaches forcefully and heals cripples.) And we need to more and more try to see as God sees. To see the potential not the limits. To see what can be, not what is. To see the David hidden inside of the marble, so that we can chip away all that is not David and reveal the rest.