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WEEKLY REFLECTIONS

~ Seeing Jesus: Now You Do, Now You Don't ~


"Now that same day [resurrection] two of them [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem...As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him...And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

"As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going further. But they urged him strongly, 'Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.' So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight" (Luke 24:13-31, NIV). 

Jesus disappearance was not a departure but a grace. This allowed the two disciples to see Him with their hearts and spirits rather than being restricted to the sense of physical sight. Luke later wrote, "...Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread" (Luke 24:35b). Jesus was not playing a supernatural game of "now you see me, now you don't" or "hide and seek." He was recognized in the sacramental breaking of the bread, a gift He gave His followers at the "Last Supper" or the Passover seder beginning His passion: "This is my body, which will be broken for you; this is my blood which will be shed for you." Jesus disappeared from physical sight to enable Him to be seen by heart and spirit, a superior venue of perception.

This is not my interpretation of what happened. Jesus Himself explained, "It is for your good that I am going away [physically]. Unless I go away, the Counselor [Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you...I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth...All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me" (John 16:7-16).

Yes, this sounds enigmatic, but Jesus covered that too: "Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father" (John 16:25). Now is that time, because our physical eyesight is free from fixating on His physical presence, liberating us to perceive His presence with heart and spirit, which is more revealing than our eyes.

If one were to see a palpable vision of the Christ, one would be ecstatic and may even write a book about it. Even supposed images of Jesus appearing on old sandwiches and filmy pieces of window glass sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Such "visions" and "appearances" blinds our hearts and spirits. Physical appearances of Christ are harmful distractions. From what? From perceiving Him where He Himself told us to find Him: in the poor, imprisoned, sick, oppressed, in the least regarded among us. (See the end of Matthew 25.) Palpable visions or appearances of Christ with our physical eyes distract us from the joy and privilege of seeing and serving Him where He desires to be seen and served.

There is something else that must not be overlooked on our "Road to Emmaus." On the seven mile walk, Jesus had a good bit of time to present Himself through the hearing sense as He expounded on the Scriptures. The response of His disciples was, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32). St. Paul wrote, "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Paul quoted Isaiah, "I [God] was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me" (Romans 10:20).

Reading the Scriptures slowly aloud in meditation or hearing them read in a worshipful, liturgical atmosphere typically has them resonate with a "burning in the heart." Getting only a "that's nice" or a "ho-hum" response with no burning of the spirit indicates a blinding to the Christ revealed in them. The Scriptures and the words of Christ is an organism. Organisms are alive; this one imparts life.

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul also quotes Isaiah 52:7: "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!' "

We can go into our churches or retreat into our hermitages and cry out, "Lord, appear to me! Show me your glorious self! Make me feel your presence!" We may leave feeling good, blessed, frustrated or disappointed. We can also listen with ears and hearts to the groans of the prisoners, the wailing of the suffering, the silence of the hopeless, despondent and depressed. We can feel the breaking of the unleavened bread done "in memory of Me." We, not immune from being prisoners, from suffering, feeling despondent and depressed, from affliction, can hear the voice of Christ in our own lamentations, for we are also in solidarity with the least of His brothers and sisters. We can learn about Him through the study of the Scriptures; we can feel and perceive Him with our spirits through the meditative hearing (Lectio Divina) of Scripture.

We may feel many diverse emotions in our souls and bodies, from ecstasy to sorrow. Does it really matter what we feel, so long we touch the face of God in all the places He taught we would find Him? That touch is enough. Awesome, in fact. Desiring something for ourselves from that touching is to take His name in vain, in vanity, elevating our self-interests above pure worship "in spirit and truth." In whose spirit and truth? Certainly not ours.

"If anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect -- if that were possible" (Matthew 24:23-24). No need to fear being deceived if you look where Christ told us. You will not see false Christs in the truly poor, neglected, despised, suffering and afflicted. You will not see false Christs in the breaking of the bread in His name nor in the prayerful meditation of Scripture. You will not see false Christs in your own pain and lamentations. You will not see false Christs in the least of His brothers and sisters. All these are safe and promising places to see the true Christ, and to serve and worship Him. Thus they are holy, sacred places to visit, dwell in and embrace.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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