Seeing and Recognizing


No matter which of the four gospels we are talking about, the post-resurrection story is anticlimactic.  They share that in common.  I mean, how could it not be anti-climactic?  Maybe that’s how it has flown under my radar so long – the seeming inconsistencies.  Was Jesus recognizable after the resurrection or not?

Probably the most well-known post-resurrection story is that in Luke, the so-called Road to Emmaus story in Luke 24.  You know the story.  Jesus has died, but is now missing from the tomb.  As “two of them” (whoever “them” is) are walking to Emmaus “Jesus himself came and walked along with them; but they are kept from recognizing him.”  We aren’t given details on why “they” didn’t recognize him, only that they didn’t.  And this is not a “didn’t recognize him” from across a room, in a brief glance, this is “they” didn’t recognize him in the 6 to 7 mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  In a walk of about two hours, close enough to converse, “they” didn’t recognize Jesus.  Those dudes need some glasses!  It was not until they are eating later that day, after Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them” that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”  We scratch our heads, of course, how would “they” not recognize him?  It is almost enough to make us forget that the person they didn’t recognize had been dead and was alive again.  Oh, that we understand – but how could “they” not recognize him”

Well, “they” are seemingly in good company.  In John 20, when Mary Magdelene was standing outside the tomb, she has a conversation with Jesus but “did not realize that it was Jesus.”  She tells him (you can hear the brave sternness in her voice): “Sir, if you have carried him away, well me where you put him and I will get him.”  But the dialogue continues, and when Jesus answers her by name Mary Magdelene finally recognizes him.  So seemingly, Mary Magdelene, though a little slow out of the gate, beats the “they” to the finish line in the race to recognition.

Compare “they” and Mary Madgelene to the story in Matthew, which is short on detail.  The two Marys find an empty tomb and are running to tell the others: “Suddenly Jesus met them,” he greets them, and  the two Marys recognize him, “clasped his feet and worshiped him.”

Finally, in Mark (in a section my Bible tells me was not in many of the early manuscripts) we see what is essentially a re-telling of the story from the other three Gospels, above – somewhat of a summary of those events.

It is easy (as it is always easy to be critical of others) to scratch our heads and wonder how “they” could have missed the obvious.  The easy questions are there – Why do “they” and Mary Magdelene not recognize Jesus, at least not at first?   And why do some come to recognition more quickly than others?  What kept them from recognizing him immediately?  Well, the answers that occurs to me, when I think on it, suggest that this all seems about right.  My powers of recognition are about the same, or maybe not even that good.  Sometimes I see Jesus immediately, but not generally.  Not Jesus, himself, you understand, but Jesus in others.  Sometimes it takes a while for the switch to flip and the light bulb to come on – if it indeed ever does.  There are times, okay, many times, where Jesus has been right there in front of me and I missed him.  I know that with surety because sometimes the clarity of that being in the presence of Jesus hits me well after the fact — a minute, an hour, a year, a decade later.  Still, when the recognition comes it is powerful, even awesome.

I am, at best, “they.”  At worst I am recognition-challenged, quick to see, slow to recognize.  But the good news is that Jesus doesn’t give up easily.  He kept walking with them on the Road to Emmaus despite the fact that “they” didn’t recognize him; he hung in there in dialogue with Mary Magdelene until the light bulb of recognition shone brightly.   I do not/will not recognize from time to time, but it would be a shame to quit looking, quit trying to recognize Jesus just because I don’t always recognize Him immediately.  In this I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes, from Justice Feliz Frankfurter: “Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not reject it merely because it comes too late.”  If I just keep walking, keep looking, keep the dialogue open, the switch will flip on for me – it has and it will.  And oh, what a glorious light when I finally realize he was/is there, right there beside me!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s