The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Imagine Cleopas and the other disciple walking to Emmaus. Their heads are cast down and they are trying to make sense of all that has happened in the last several days. We don’t know much about these two disciples—in fact, until now, we have not even heard of them, and yet they have been close enough to the events of the past several days that they know it all—right down to the witness of the women at the tomb earlier that morning. This news of the resurrection, however, proves too much for them, for these two have chosen not to stay behind with the others. Apparently they have seen enough and they have decided that it’s time to go home.
A stranger approaches them and asks why they are looking so downcast and Cleopas responds: “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” And then they proceed to regale the stranger with the story of the death of the man they had hoped would be the Messiah.
One of the things I find most surprising about the journey to Emmaus is the inability of the disciples to recognize the Lord. This puzzles me. How could people who had presumably spent so much time with Jesus fail to recognize a person they knew so well?
A public service announcement promoting safety for cyclists helped me to understand. The ad begins with several people lining up on a basketball court tossing a ball to and fro. The announcer asks the viewers to count how many times the team dressed in white passes the ball during a quick game. You and myself, the viewers, are determined to watch carefully. No one’s going to pull a fast one on us! I watched and counted. The announcer comes back on and says that the white team passed the ball back and forth thirteen times. Fine. I got that as well. This, I tell myself, means that I am alert and aware. Then the announcer says: “But I bet you missed the moon-walking monkey.” How could I? I actually snorted. Me—no way could I miss something as outrageous as that. Surely a moon-walking monkey would just about jump out and scream “Look at me!” I looked again at the ad. Sure enough, right there in the middle of the game was a moon-walking monkey. I missed it all. I didn’t see the monkey because I wasn’t looking for him. I was concentrating so hard on what the announcer told me to look for, that I ignored everything else that did not fit into that scene. And here’s the point of the Awareness Test. I’m far from alone.
While the situation is not exactly the same sort of scenario as Jesus walking with the disciples to Emmaus, what this Awareness Test offers us is the opportunity to reflect on the issues associated with whether we can see something or not, and more specifically, how we experience Jesus. In other words, is it possible that not only the disciples—but also you and I, fail to notice Jesus as he walks right beside us? Do we miss seeing God because our attention is focused elsewhere?
The point this brief psychological test makes is that most folks don’t see something they’re not conditioned to look for. In other words, most often, we see precisely what we expect to see—or, what other folks ask us to look for. We are creatures of habit. And so, perhaps more often than we might like to think, we fail to see the oddest things right in front of us—such as moon-walking monkeys, because our eyes and our minds are searching for something else.
This human conundrum can work for us in positive ways and it can work against us in negative. In the documentary film Blind Spot, Traudl Junge describes how when she was twenty-two years old, she was chosen from a typing competition to become Hitler’s secretary. Late in life she became deeply disturbed that she had participated in the Nazi horrors at such close quarters and had remained so apolitical. She was just doing her job. In a painful catharsis of self-analysis, she describes her “blind spot” at remaining so oblivious to the obvious. Jungl clearly wanted to unburden herself and to speak publicly for the first time in her life at the age of 81, just months before she died. It is never too late to begin to look at things clearly.
Tradl Junge, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus suffered from blindness. The Emmaus disciples were blinded by their mistaken expectations about what God was doing in Jesus. They were focused on what they thought God should be accomplishing with the help of a Messiah. They listened to the words of the women at the tomb, but didn’t really hear the Good News because it didn’t fit with what they were hoping to see accomplished. They might have had twenty-twenty vision (these two disciples); but they were blind to the moon-walking monkey in their midst—the extraordinary workings of God occurring right before their eyes.
So, isn’t it Good News, that Jesus himself takes matters into his own hands and in breaking bread with them, their eyes were opened. And, doesn’t it occur to you that perhaps, in the same way, the Eucharist holds the same possibility for us—enabling us to open our eyes—and our hearts—to perceive the presence of God.
When those disciples started on their walk Sunday morning toward Emmaus the Gospel tells us that “their eyes were prevented from recognizing Jesus.” The day ended with a Eucharistic dinner when “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” There is an invitation and a challenge here for you and myself as well. Like those disciples, we are invited to feast with the Lord, in receiving the holy food and drink, let our eyes be opened—and may we see. In Jesus’ name. Amen.