Guest post by: Catherine
Perhaps like me, on Easter Sunday you read the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35 which likely happened in the afternoon on that first Easter Sunday 1984 years ago. As we read the story together the question that was stuck in my mind was, “HOW DID THEY NOT RECOGNIZE JESUS?” I mean these guys knew Jesus. They sat under his teaching, they broke bread with him, they saw him perform miracles. They weren’t one of the 12 disciples, but it seems like they were still a close part of the community. So if all of this true, how could they not recognize Jesus? I mean when was the last time you didn’t recognize a close friend after being separated for a mere 3 days?
My first guess as to why they didn’t recognize Jesus was because he must have looked different. When he resurrected, though he had a physical body, it must have looked different than it did 3 days before. Certainly the wounds he had just received must have been healed but even his face and his voice must have been different. Even without sight, just by hearing a voice on a phone, we can usually recognize a close friend.
This body that he had was different. He looked different sometimes but sometimes the same, he could walk through walls, appear and disappear, he ate food, and he was healed yet he still had scar marks from his crucifixion. Yet this was still his body. This isn’t just a spiritual resurrection, it’s a physical one – the grave is EMPTY. Jesus wasn’t just brought back to life after his death, he was raised to a new level of existence, a higher level. He will never die again, his body won’t begin to fall apart as he gets older as ours does. His flesh is now incorruptible. This is one of the theories that explains why these disciples couldn’t recognize him – no one ever had visually seen incorruptible material before. You see our bodies will someday decay, these buildings will fall down, the trees will someday die. But the Jesus they saw that day, was incorruptible – a body that will last all of eternity! This resurrection that Jesus experienced is the same promise that we wait for when Jesus returns a second time!
Another guess as to why they didn’t recognize him is because they weren’t looking for him. They weren’t expecting to see him and had no reason to think that this stranger might be Jesus. Despite seeing his miracles and hearing his teachings, they didn’t understand that he was the son of God and not just a prophet. They didn’t believe he had resurrected from the dead. If they had believed what the women said after they found the empty tomb, they wouldn’t have left Jerusalem. But no, these friends of Jesus are giving up, they’ve lost hope, they are moving on with life.
After spending all day with Jesus, after listening to his teaching again, when they are breaking bread together, they finally recognize him. I wonder what it was that made them recognize him? Did Jesus do something in the moment in the way he broke the break or the way he blessed it that was unique and they just knew it was him? Or did they finally lift up their downcast faces and look deep into his eyes and recognize their good friend? I’m not sure what it was but in a moment they recognized him and in the same moment he disappeared. He was gone from their presence. But now for the first time in this story they act on faith rather than reason and they decide to return to Jerusalem even in the middle of the night. They believed what they just saw wasn’t some kind of vision or dream but really Jesus himself in the flesh with them, speaking to them, teaching them all day long.
I don’t know about you but I don’t want to miss recognizing Jesus. This is a scary thought to me because apparently, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve known him, how much you’ve sat under his teaching, or how close in proximity he is to you, one can still fail to recognize the very Son of God in your presence. I don’t want to miss out on recognizing Jesus! I don’t have a great answer as to how we can avoid this pitfall except to make sure our hearts are in the right place to recognize his movement in this world. We can begin by believing that he is truly resurrected and that he will show up in our world. As we have passed Easter for this year, let’s commit to opening our eyes and looking for Jesus working all around us. Are you watching for him?