3rd Sunday of Easter (Fr. Francis)
Len Sweet tells this story about Karl Barth, the famous Swiss theologian. It may be a true story or an evangelized version. Karl Barth was riding a streetcar in his home city of Basel, Switzerland. He took a seat next to a tourist, and the two men started chatting with one another. “Are you new to the city?” Barth inquired. “Yes,” said the tourist.” “Is there anything you would particularly like to see in the city?” asked Barth. “Yes,” said the tourist, “I would like to meet the famous Swiss theologian, Karl Barth,” was the reply. “Do you know him, asked the tourist?” Barth answered, “As a matter of fact, I do know him. I give him a shave every morning” The tourist got off the streetcar at the next stop, quite delighted with himself. He went back to his hotel and told everyone, “I met Karl Barth’s barber today!” Len Sweet tells the story to make the point that we, like the disciples who were on the way to Emmaus, often fail to recognize Jesus when he is among us. It’s about recognition. We meet people who know him, who love him and revel in his grace. We read their books and listen to their podcasts. Sometimes we even get to meet them. We are content to say, ‘I met your evangelical superhero here today.’ The crazy irony is the missed opportunity for meeting Jesus living with us and within us.
Why doesn’t God just go ahead and openly reveal himself to the world so that everyone can believe? Why doesn’t he just peel back the clouds one day and say a few profound words so that everyone, everywhere would be convinced that he is real. If he did this, having faith would never be an issue for anyone because people would have proof. Not like today, where faith takes effort because we seemingly lack solid evidence.
This is the argument that has been thrown out time and again as people contemplate the existence of God. If God is real, why doesn’t he just show himself? And at first blush it seems like a fairly logical argument, doesn’t it? If God would just prove his existence, then people everywhere would believe. Churches would be full, and there would be peace and harmony across the globe as people come to realize that God is real and that heaven and hell do in fact exist.
The trouble with this argument is that it doesn’t quite hold water. And we have the historical events surrounding that first Easter as proof.
Look back at the past three weeks of Gospels, all of which dealt with the day of or the few days shortly after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Easter Day we heard about Peter and the other disciple racing to the tomb, and when they found the tomb empty and the burial clothes rolled up neatly, the other disciple (John) immediately believed in the resurrection, while Peter was not so sure.
Last week we heard about Thomas, the doubting one who refused to believe his brother and sister disciples when they told him that they had seen the Lord. He wanted physical proof, which he did in fact get a week later.
And now this week we hear about the two disciples who were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, discussing and debating all that had happened. These two, at least for me, really take the cake. They heard other people speaking about the resurrected Christ and yet they decided to leave Jerusalem. They were disciples of the Lord! They couldn’t just stick around to check out what they had heard?
The amazing thing about these past three Gospel stories — and so many others surrounding the resurrection of Jesus — is that they tell us about people who knew Jesus personally, who heard him talk about his death and resurrection, and yet refused to believe when presented with evidence that what Christ said was true. How, you may ask, could they possibly not have believed?
But this is the story of faith. Faith is fragile, often slow to build, and very easily put to the test. This was true even for the people who knew Jesus personally. And this is the story that we hear in today’s Gospel.
So let’s look again at today’s Gospel. How did the two on the road to Emmaus eventually come to faith? First, they heard the scriptures explained to them, and then they came to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Hopefully this sounds familiar. It is exactly what we do in Mass. We hear the scriptures proclaimed and have them explained to us in the Liturgy of the Word, and then we ourselves come to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Despite their lack of faith when confronted with the actual events of the resurrection, they came to believe through their personal Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist, that is, their own personal Mass.
But let’s jump back to the original question raised about why God doesn’t just reveal himself to us. Clearly we see in the past three weeks’ Gospels that even when he did, people refused to believe. And if his own apostles and disciples were slow to believe, can you imagine how others who didn’t know him or who disliked him must have reacted? The simple fact is that even when people are hit upside the head with the truth of Jesus Christ, they often don’t come to faith.
And we don’t need to look back 2,000 years to see this point made. We can see it playing out in more recent times. Here are just a few examples.
In 1917, God revealed himself in the miracle of the sun at Fatima. Several tens of thousands of people saw it and came to believe. But how many believe because of it today?
Look to the Eucharistic Miracle of Buenos Aires in 1996, which is still able to be seen today. A discarded Eucharistic host turned to flesh and blood in a way that could be nothing less than a miracle. But how many people believe because of it today?
Look to the tremendous mysteries surrounding the Shroud of Turin. It cannot be explained by conventional science. But how many people believe because of it today?
And what about the Tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a miracle which continues to reveal itself every time it is studied in greater detail? How many people have faith because of it today?
The truth is that if God did peel back the clouds to our world and say a few profound words, those whose hearts are closed to faith would deny it or disagree about its meaning. As the saying goes, those who have no faith say that the reason Jesus walked on water was because he was unable to swim.
So why doesn’t God simply reveal himself? The answer is that he does, and has done so countless times. He revealed himself most profoundly in the incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He reveals himself in the many miracles that have occurred right under our noses. He reveals himself in the Eucharist. He reveals himself every time a new life is created in the womb. And yet people refuse to believe.
Let it be our prayer today that we have the wisdom to see the proof of his existence and take it to heart that we might believe more fully! The resurrection is still fresh in our minds; the season of Easter is moving along toward its conclusion at Pentecost. May we all take to heart the message of the empty tomb that we, like Thomas, may proclaim with joy, “My Lord and my God!”
Luke’s Emmaus story teaches us that Jesus’ death and Resurrection fit God’s purpose as revealed in the Scriptures; the risen Jesus is present in the Word of God and especially in the Breaking of the Bread; suffering is necessary for the Messiah “to enter into his glory”; and we have a risen Savior, One Who personally walks with us in our daily paths, talks with us through His Word and with Whom we can talk through prayer. He is the One Who opens our minds to understand and respond to His Word. (The bishops at the Second Vatican Council recorded these compelling words which are still deeply relevant to the Church today: ‘The Church has always venerated the Divine Scriptures just as it venerates the Body of the Lord, since from the table both of the Word of God and of the Body of Christ it unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the Bread of Life. It has always regarded the Scriptures together with sacred tradition as the supreme rule of Faith and will ever do so” (Dei Verbum 21). Jesus is with us, is concerned about us, and provides for us regardless of what life may bring. Further, the Father, at Jesus’ request, has given us the Holy Spirit so that we may teach others about Him. Let us, therefore, with the perception of His presence, walk with Jesus, talk with Him, depend on Him, worship Him, and tell others about Him. Amen.
Fr. A. Francis HGN