It's True What They Said About Me
by Rev. Matthew Zuberbueler
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them,
"Peace be with you." But they were startled and terrified and thought that
they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, "Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet,
that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh
and bones as you can see I have." And as he said this, he showed them his
hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were
amazed, he asked them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a
piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.
He said to them, "These are my words and that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, "Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."
The “two disciples” who begin our passage today have just made their eager trek back into Jerusalem to recount the “goings on” of their trek out of Jerusalem on Emmaus Road (a good album name?). As we know (from the verses preceding today’s passage), Jesus joined them and spoke with them for a long part of their journey, all the while either preventing them from recognizing him or deciding not to interrupt their kilometers-long blindness — a blindness resistant to the heart-inflaming truths He expressed about himself in Scripture. Could there possibly be a better Scripture class than this one was? The Eternal Word offers the answers to the questions and pains in the confused hearts of these disciples lamenting his death. He does so by extracting the answers from the Scriptures, which have all along been preparing people for the moments these two disciples had just witnessed. It was a great class, so great they don’t even notice who the professor is.
Did Jesus want them to recognize him? We know that they did not recognize him until he broke bread with them. While they walk “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” When he breaks the bread and gives it to them “their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” The reason they do not recognize him along the way seems to be their fault. Jesus himself calls them “foolish” and “slow of heart” for not understanding why all that happened to him was supposed to happen and could have been expected. Graciously he teaches them. Then, graciously, he lets them discover who he really is. Then, graciously and mysteriously He vanishes from their sight — the lesson, then the discovery or encounter.
Having raced back to Jerusalem the excited two disciples barely tell their story before Jesus “catches up with them” and provides them and the other disciples another encounter. In this encounter, as in others, their failure to recognize him is more about their fears than it is about his identity. “How can we be seeing someone we know we saw die now standing here before us alive?” In a way akin to his rebuke earlier of the two disciples, Jesus rebukes the larger group for their fear: "Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." He allows this personal encounter to be the way they learn. The encounter teaches them what the Scriptures (and prophets) had taught. To make his point more emphatically He eats some of their leftover baked tilapia. Some teachers will stop at nothing.
After this personal encounter and its lesson Jesus begins to teach again, to teach in the conventional way: "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” When he refers to the law of Moses, the psalms and the prophets Jesus is saying, “It’s all true. All of it was about me. And you are witnesses of the long-awaited events.” In fact, He is providing them with the actual grace needed to believe, to accept, and to proclaim his saving work to the entire world. No small lesson plan.
We know that Jesus appeared numerous times to his disciples after the Resurrection. We know that He allowed these meetings to be encounters that taught and teachings that prepared for encounters. We hear him correcting them for their fears and for their ignorance. It is also evident that he spent large amounts of time in His explanations to them about the Scriptures. Our devout reception of the Sacraments, accompanied by regular study of our faith, should be enough to prepare us for an ongoing fruitful response to the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives — unless, by our own fault, we are slow of heart or foolish or governed by our fears. Even then, as we see, Jesus will come to help us.
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