Imagine what it must have been like for the disciples on that first Easter Sunday. Jesus, who had been crucified just three days earlier, began to appear to them. First it was to Mary Magdalene. Then to Peter. Then to all the apostles except Thomas. And then to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus seemed to be everywhere!
But what about those people who weren’t Jesus’ followers? Surely Mary Magdalene wasn’t the only person in the graveyard that morning. Didn’t any of the people who had come to visit other graves recognize him when he appeared? What about the other people walking on the road to Emmaus or seated at the inn where they broke bread? Nothing seemed to stand out for them either. It seems that Jesus revealed himself only to those who were looking for him. And for some of them, it even took some time before they could recognize him!
In the first essay, we looked at how God longs to feed us with his Bread of Life. In this article, we want to look at how our eyes can be opened to see Jesus more clearly as we celebrate Mass.
I Will Draw Everyone. Let’s do a short Bible study for a moment. Think about Paul writing that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39). Think about Scripture’s promise that when you pray, the Holy Spirit prays with you and convinces you that you are a child of God (8:16). Think about how the Holy Spirit is always at work, showing you how to love Jesus and please him (John 16:13). Think too about how Christ is even in you, helping you think and choose and act the right way (Philippians 2:13).
Put all of these passages together, and you get a sense of how very much God loves you. The passages also show how his Spirit is constantly at work, sending you hundreds, even thousands, of encouraging, uplifting, and inspiring thoughts every day. Not a day goes by that God doesn’t try to speak to us in one way or another!
Here is another passage that says the same thing, but in a different way. Near the end of his ministry, Jesus told his disciples, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (John 12:32). It’s interesting that the Greek word for “draw” in this verse also means “drag” or “carry.” This shows the extreme lengths God is willing to go so that he can bring us to himself. He loves us so much that he will even carry us when we are too weak or too hurt to come to him! And how does Jesus draw us? He doesn’t do it begrudgingly or reluctantly. No, he lifts us up and carries us with unconditional love and boundless mercy. Let’s take a closer look at a couple of stories from Scripture that show Jesus revealing himself to people as he lifts them up and draws them to himself.
Eyes Opened Wide. The first is the story of the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). In the story, Jesus walks—disguised—with two disciples for a time as they grieve his death. It isn’t until they break bread together later that evening that they finally recognize him.
So often this is the case with us. We look for Jesus, but we cannot see him. We wish he were close to us, but we cannot find him. We listen for his words, but we hear nothing. But that never stops him from reaching out to us.
The disciples are filled with doubts about Jesus’ promise to rise from the dead, so he begins to confront these doubts. Beginning with Moses, he uses Scripture to explain how everything that was written about him has come true. Slowly, he draws them to himself, until the moment for breaking bread, when they are finally ready to receive him.
These two disciples saw Jesus. They touched him and they heard him. Their hearts were even burning with hope and anticipation. But amazing as it sounds, they still couldn’t recognize him. They had to receive the bread first—then their eyes were opened.
Eucharist Leads to Service. Jesus wants to teach all of us. He wants to draw us to himself. Through the Holy Spirit, he wants to give us insights into God’s wisdom and love and grace so that we can take on the “mind of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 2:16). This happens in a special and powerful way at Mass. As ordinary bread is transformed into the Body of Christ, our eyes can be opened to see Jesus. As his body is broken and shared with us, our hearts can be filled with his love and his mercy, and that moves us to want to serve.
This is exactly what happened with Jesus’ disciples on the road to Emmaus. Night had already fallen by the time they broke bread together. Not only had they been on a long journey, but they had spent most of the time in animated, challenging conversation. Most likely they were tired! Yet once their eyes were opened, they didn’t go home to rest. Instead, they turned around and immediately returned to Jerusalem. They found Peter and the others and they told them about all that had happened.
This night journey illustrates one of the great works of the Eucharist: it moves us out of ourselves and compels us to serve Jesus. The disciples were so full of joy that they couldn’t wait to share their good news. What a model of the wonderful work Jesus wants to do in us! He wants to convince us that he is the risen Lord as we break bread with him. He wants to open our eyes to see him so that we, too, will want to share his good news.
Feed My Sheep. The second story is similar to the Emmaus story. It’s the story of another miraculous catch of fish. Only this one happens after Jesus has risen from the dead (John 21:1-19). It was a few days after Easter, and Peter and a few other apostles were returning to shore after a fruitless fishing expedition. They saw a man on the shore of the lake. It was Jesus, but just as it was for the disciples on the road, these disciples in the boat didn’t recognize him. He told them that if they would cast their nets once more, they would find some fish. When they did as he suggested, they brought in so many fish that their nets almost broke. It was at that moment that one of the disciples recognized that it was Jesus.
When they came ashore, they saw that Jesus had breakfast waiting for them. As they sat down to the meal, Jesus offered them bread, just as he had done at Emmaus and just as he had done at the Last Supper. Then Jesus took Peter aside and told him three times, “Feed my sheep.” Many commentators see in this threefold command a sign of Jesus forgiving Peter for having denied him three times. But there is something else here that we may miss.
By first revealing himself and then feeding them and then telling them to feed his sheep, Jesus was telling the apostles, “I am always with you. I’m always ready to feed you and nourish you. Now you go out and do the same. Go and feed my sheep. Go to everyone—the poor and the rich, the educated and uneducated, the young and the old—and bring them to me.”
Listen, and Be Filled. Now, let’s suppose that the two disciples on the road lost interest once Jesus had begun explaining the Scriptures to them. What would have happened? Probably nothing special at all. Again, what would have happened if the disciples in the boat had ignored Jesus’ suggestion to cast their nets one more time? What if they had said, “We don’t know this fellow; why should we listen to him?” They probably would have missed out on a key opportunity to be with the Lord and receive his calling.
Without careful listening, we risk not recognizing Jesus in the bread and the wine. We risk missing his voice in the Scripture readings. We risk not seeing him in the brothers and sisters who have gathered to celebrate with us. And if we don’t recognize the Lord or his voice, how are we going to know where to cast our nets? When we allow ourselves to become distracted or overly occupied with the cares and temptations of life, we risk limiting what Jesus can do through us.
Fortunately, this didn’t happen to the two disciples on the road, and it didn’t happen to the apostles in the boat. They were attentive, they listened carefully, and they followed Jesus’ words. Jesus wants to do the same for us. He wants to reveal himself as we receive his Body and Blood. He wants us to give away everything that he has given to us.
Open Our Eyes, Lord! Brothers and sisters, we don’t have to be like those people on Easter who didn’t recognize the risen Lord. We have the Holy Spirit. We have the Church. We have the Scriptures. And most important, we have Jesus himself, the Bread of Life. Let’s ask him to open our eyes and send us out every day of this Easter season.