If I am being honest, I remember little of my divinity lectures of nearly 20 years ago today. Wish, of course, it was otherwise. However, one comment did stick in my noddle. And it is there in today lessons. For, it seems, that after Jesus was resurrected, he was somehow not immediately recognisable.
Now, I find that rather intriguing. For if you watched last Sunday’s episode of Maigret on the telly, you will know the real drama was in the unmasking of people. Indeed, the plot of every thriller is seeing people as they really are; in truly recognising them as it were.
Well, possibly Matthew was using this concept to entice you into his gospel narrative. The storyline being that you can only understand the birth and life and death of Christ from the viewpoint of his resurrection. For, it is only from that vista, can we recognize that time itself has been defeated. More to the point, time has been vanquished not by making it ‘never ending’ but rather by making time non-existent. Now, this is a wonderful hope for those who have lost a loved one. For, through Jesus’ cancellation of time, we know our beloved are still here but just out of our mortal sight.
However, there may have been another reason that Jesus was not directly recognised by his followers.
This leads me to a great story I heard from a Minister recently:
Some years ago, when he was a Parish Minister, he happened to be at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh visiting a parishioner he hadn’t met before. He located the ward and the bed. “Hello, there, Mrs Bloggs, and how are you feeling today? “Not so bad, thanks, but I’ve got a bit of pain…about here” and she indicated her abdomen, and then proceeded to go into what the minister thought was very personal and indeed private, if not intimate detail about the effects of her recent surgery.
He was getting a bit hot under the dog collar by this time, and especially when she said that she would like to show me her operation scar.
“I think I’d better get a nurse, Mrs B”
“Right, DOCTOR” she answered
That’s when the penny dropped. DOCTOR a case of mistaken identity.
Needless to say, he made his excuses and left.
Put directly, we often don’t recognize Christ, because we have made a case of mistaken identification. More precisely, we have looking for the Jesus we have made up in our head rather than the real one. A bit like the mistake of the disciples on the Emmaus road.
For we often concoct an image up of him from childhood myths, others’ cod-theologies and even our own desires and prejudices. In essence, we want to hug the Jesus of our wants and run away from the Jesus of our haunts. And, as a result, we do not accept the real Christ with his own requests, his own goals and his own topics of conversations.
And so, we walk by; we do not recognize him in his own right.
It is here, I want to recount a tale I have told you before. For that I am sorry however it is very relevant here. Moreover, it is a great tale. It is in a book by Kathleen O’Sullivan. She says one evening she was in the queue at her local fish and chip shop. It was a bitterly cold and windy night. Everyone just wanted to pick up their food and get back to their warm homes. Suddenly, the door opened and in blew a gentleman of the road. The other customers drew closer together and away from him. The manager surreptitiously appeared and spoke to the arrival quietly. There was no problem as the tramp had enough money for a cup of coffee.
As Kathleen collected her order, she turned and looked at the man sitting alone at wall counter. Suddenly, her world reeled before her. For behind the unkempt beard, she saw the eyes of he who had seen Peter on the beach, the eyes of the one who greeted his followers on the road to Emmaus. The eyes of he who joined them on the mountain top. She saw too the eyes of one who knew her to the core of her being. Moreover, for a second, she also saw his amusement at that moment of recognition. She hurried from the shop in total confusion.
Let then the experience of the disciples on the road Emmaus be a warning to us. In fact, in the week ahead, let us try to put aside our preconceptions of Jesus and let him speak for himself. Let us look for him in the strangest and least expected places. Let us indeed not walk blindly and so allow him to pass us by. For we may not come that way again.
Oh, we say I don’t have the time.
Your right – but God has!
All we need do is recognise it in him and him out with it!