Unable to see

This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of Easter and our gospel is the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Luke sets the scene with markers of time (that very day), place (on the road between Jerusalem and Emmaus) and situation – two disciples who earlier had been with the disciples, heard the women’s testimony and apparently discounted their testimony as idle wistfulness.  The community of believers has been fractured. As it recounts in v.17, the “looked downcast.”

Elsewhere in the Gospel according to Luke “eyes” and “sight” have been correlated with comprehension, faith and salvation:

  • Zechariah’s canticle, the Benedictus, especially 1:78-79;
  • Simeon’s canticle, Nunc Dimitis, 2:30:  “for my eyes have seen your salvation”;
  • The parable of the Good Samaritan who sees, 10:23;
  • The lamp of the body is your eye.r When your eye is sound, then your whole body is filled with light, but when it is bad, then your body is in darkness”11:34;  and
  • the healing of the blind beggar, 18:35-42;

For most of the part of the gospel referred to as the “Journey to Jerusalem” (9:51 – 18:14) the disciples have witnessed Jesus’ teaching, mighty deeds, and revelation of his heavenly Father.  But in the earliest hours of the new world order after the Resurrection, the two disciples do not recognize Jesus. Their eyes are “prevented” from seeing, an expression for spiritual blindness. It is ironic that the two travelers consider themselves the truly knowledgeable ones and so are shocked that this fellow traveler has no idea of the very public events of the last three days.  While they understand the details of the events from a human perspective, they are truly unaware of those events’ meaning.

The passive “prevented” (ekratounto) raises the question, who or what kept them from recognizing Jesus? Most often the answer lies within our own fast-held preconceptions which blind us to the real Jesus. Perhaps it is a divine passive, i.e., where God keeps them from seeing Jesus – if so, then God created the situation where Jesus could explain scriptures to them. Perhaps it is both.

Tannehill (The Narrative Unity of Luke/Acts, 282) combines the divine and human sources of “blindness” when he writes: “God holds human eyes in the sense that God’s ways necessarily appear meaningless to humans who understand events in terms of their own purposes and ways of achieving them. A new vision of how God works salvation in the world must be granted to the disciples before a crucified and risen Messiah can be meaningful for them.”

God may use our inadequate or narrow understandings to blind us so that God might give us a new vision of God’s ways in the world with its related understanding of scripture. Remember that Saul was a very devout and committed believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before he was blinded by the light of Jesus. Could his deeply held, devout Jewish beliefs have kept him from seeing the risen Jesus before? If so, what might that imply about us? Whatever deeply held beliefs that we have, we, perhaps, should take less seriously; and recognize that our faith comes as a gift that we can only humbly accept, not proudly claim.

Image credit: James Tissot, 1900, The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road (Les pèlerins d’Emmaüs en chemin), Public Domain

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