And it happened that as they were talking together and discussing it, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but their eyes were prevented from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What are all these things that you are discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped, their faces downcast (Luke. 24:15-17).
This is something new. Someone comes along and walks ‘by their side’. We know, because the gospel tells us immediately, that the stranger was Jesus, but the two disciples are clueless as to the identity of this person. Why don’t they recognise their dearest friend? Why don’t they fall all over themselves embracing him? This is a question I find impossible to answer. But it is certainly another of those experiences I have had any number of times in my life.
As I muddle along through the difficulties in my life, trying to understand what seems incomprehensible, someone, or something unexpected enters my life. At times, the unexpected has come in the form of a person – a new relationship is formed. At other times, the unexpected has taken the form of a new responsibility, or set of obligations that cause me to refocus my energies and open myself to new ideas. Do I always recognise Jesus himself walking by my side in these experiences? Well, no. Not immediately.
Many times, something new is mediated through the liturgy of the Church. I am a Catholic Benedictine nun. As such, I am in church at least seven times a day for the liturgy or private prayer. This is a real encounter with the living God. But am I always sufficiently alive to this experience? Again, I must confess that I’m not. Instead, I can be preoccupied by my own thoughts, my own version of my experiences, my own hopes and disappointments.
But rather than berating myself for having missed the obvious so often, perhaps this story teaches that this is a fairly typical experience for disciples to have. It happened to Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus. It happens to me. I am not alone here. Furthermore, the Lord knows what we are like, and does not leave us in our wrongheadedness any longer than necessary. We can be hopeful in a way that the two disciples couldn’t be, for we can remember that in this story, Jesus takes the initiative and helps the disciples. He came up and walked by their side. He comes up to walk with us, too. We will explore this further tomorrow.