Image: Tombstone Territorial Park, Dempster Highway
In my work as a missionary priest I find myself traveling on a regular basis between four small northern communities, usually only staying in one place for a few days at a time. Sometimes it will be several weeks before I get back to visit again. When I return, it is a struggle to always connect the right names with the faces that I meet again and, in the depths of winter when scarves and neck warmers pulled up to your nose are essential items of clothing, it is hard to even recognize people at all. Needless to say, it is bit of a problem for a pastor who is supposed to know his people.
The meaning of the word “recognition” is to know again. To recognize someone implies that you must have known them in the first place. In the readings today there are two stories of recognition. In the first reading from Acts we hear of a man who was recognized by his neighbors after receiving a healing miracle, and in the Gospel of Luke we see Jesus, risen from the tomb, not being recognized at all, at least not right away.
The man who was crippled from birth seems to have been well loved by his community. He had lived there his whole life, he had friends that would make sure he got to the temple where people, who were kind to him, would give him a few coins to help toward the cost of his daily living. If you are loved you can be happy no matter what, but it can’t have been an easy life. When Peter and John came and cured the man, giving him the use of his legs for the first time, they changed his life drastically. He was now tall, and mobile and we are told that he was filled with joy and jumping up and down. He would have seemed like a completely different person, so much about him had changed. But the people still knew and recognized him and couldn’t believe how this had happened.
On the road to Emmaus the story was different. The two who were walking and talking had not been a part of the inner circle of Jesus disciples but they would have seen Jesus plenty of times and watched and listened as he had taught and healed the sick. You would think that if Jesus, who they had just seen crucified, appeared before them they would be shocked. But in fact they did not recognize him at all.
What does it mean to recognize the risen Jesus? Obviously, by this account, it is not the same as recognizing a face. Now when I go into the communities I have started to use my phone to take pictures of people to help me remember. But recognizing the risen Jesus is deeper than that. It is not enough to look at and study a picture of a kindly good shepherd hanging on the wall.
It was not until they stopped together for a meal and Jesus broke bread with them, “he blessed the bread, broke it and handed it to them. It was then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” It was at that moment that the disciples knew Jesus, they saw in Jesus not a face, or a man, or a name, but they looked with their hearts and saw the Lord, God’s son. They came then to realize that they had always known Jesus, they just had not understood. But now their hearts burned with the knowledge of God’s great gift and they could not wait to share it with everyone.