Who was that Man?
3rd Sunday of Easter
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
If you have ever looked at the clouds and have seen faces or animals, or if you have seen the ‘Man in the Moon’ on a clear night during a full moon; then you then you have had a instance of pareidolia. This is when the part of our brains, dedicated to face recognition, interprets the stimuli from sight or sound into a meaning known to the observer.
Basically, it is our brain trying to make sense out of what we are seeing or hearing. Human beings are very social creatures and therefore rely heavily on our recognition of each other and ourselves. It is because of this brain function that we can recognize ourselves in pictures or the mirror. It is also how we can discern, in a crowd, the voice of our children or friends over the din of others.
The word derives from the Greek words ????, "beside, alongside, instead [of]" and the noun ??????? "image, form, shape". The funny thing is that this part of the brain that recognized faces and shapes, does not connect directly to the part of the brain that remembers names of people you know.
On the other hand, some human beings suffer from a cognitive disorder called prosopagnosia. This disorder is also known as face blindness. A person with this disorder has trouble recognizing familiar faces such as friends and family members, and even their own face when looking in a mirror.
I wonder if the encounter on the road to Emmaus might have been similar. The disciples who are telling the story knew who Jesus was, they were indeed his disciples. They had followed him and sat at his feet learning from him for years. They traveled and ate with him, day in and day out. Some of them, like Cleopas, may not have been in the inner circle like the Twelve, but they still would have been able to recognize him in a crowd.
Quite a few reasons for the lack of identification by the disciples come to mind. Firstly, Christ was crucified, died and was buried in a tomb. The women who witnessed the empty tomb, the angels and even Jesus himself, had trouble being believed. In John’s account, Mary herself mistook Jesus for a gardener:
‘And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”
Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.’ [Jn 20:12–14]
Another reason these disciples may have had trouble recognizing Jesus is that nobody has risen from the dead like he had done. They were seeing Christ, their teacher, prophet and Lord, outside of the regular experience. Their minds could not accept the awesome and shocking truth. And how could they? How could we?
Not recognizing God before our eyes is not something new. Jacob wrestled with God without knowing until afterwards. [Gen 32:24] Abraham spoke to strangers only to later realize he was talking with the Lord. Thomas was face to face with Jesus before he declared his belief.
Even we do not recognize Jesus when he is right before our eyes. We may be reacting like the disciples. We may have trouble believing that Christ is risen from the grave and that our very souls are in His hands. We may be trying to use our own reason to come to understanding of what is the wisdom of God.
But we are foolish. We cannot come to God by our own reason or strength. The only way we may believe is through the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit, Jesus does for us what he did for his disciples; He opens our minds so that we can understand the Scriptures.
Many people spend years of their lives educating themselves. They have many letters after their name. They are even recognized by others of their great knowledge and intelligence. Yet with all of this brain power, they will never understand the wisdom of God.
To quote the good Dr. Martin Luther:
“The Bible, or Scripture, is not the kind of book which human reason and wisdom produce. The jurists’ and poets’ arts derive from human reason and are by the same token to be understood and grasped by reason. But the [Scriptures] do not originate out of human wisdom and reason. Accordingly, whoever thinks that he will comprehend [the Scriptures] on the basis of reason, or measure and weigh Scripture on how it tallies with reason, will in fact do just the opposite.”
And the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:22-25,
“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
How can a person who believes and is baptized be saved? How can we partake of the body and blood or our Lord through bread and wine? How can a man rise from the dead and sit at God’s right hand? To our human minds, it is impossible. Yet it is God’s pleasure to set such things before the eyes of reason so that we may stumble over it.
To whom does God make known the resurrection of his Son? Women of little learning and poor fishermen. The women, who took the spices and ointments to the tomb early that morning while it was still dark, are the people to whom God chose to reveal Himself. The wise men would call them foolish. They would say, ‘Look at these women. They are proposing to anoint the Lord in the tomb, with the guards in front of it, and the tomb itself shut and sealed!’ And yet these simple and foolish women are the first to whom Christ reveals his resurrection, and thereby makes them witnesses.
And the disciples are simple fishermen. Yet Christ gives them such an understanding of Scripture that not even the super-intelligent and learned high priests and Bible scholars could compare. It was God’s will to reveal his greatest work, the resurrection of his Son, to the so called ignorant, simple, and foolish people.
This is how God proceeds with his Word and work, as he opens them up to those who have not heard. To make it known to the wise and prudent is impossible. Christ himself clearly and openly confirmed his preaching before his own people by wonderful miracles, even raising the dead but did they believe? Sadly, many of them turned away in unbelief.
As a result, God ruled that he would let his Word remain hidden and un-understood by them. I will let my Word be written and preached clearly, he said, but I will reserve the Holy Spirit’s revelation of it for a few simple folks who do not dispute it, nor contest it, but simply believe. For the rest, it will be and remain utter darkness.
These two disciples had also previously studied the Scriptures without understanding it. But now Christ comes and opens the Scripture for them, so that they look with different eyes and now understand what before they did not.
Undoubtedly, all of this was shared by our Lord Christ with these two disciples, how from Adam and Eve until now the promise was made out of which all the rest flows. Jesus effectively pointed to his suffering and resurrection from the dead. They appear to be difficult and obscure words, which human reason mocks and ridicules when it encounters and hears them. But when simple hearts, enlightened by the Holy Spirit’s preaching, encounter them, they believe from the heart.
This must have been a truly beautiful sermon which Christ shared with the disciples, as he explained the whole of Scripture from Moses on through the Prophets as it pertained to him. Their hearts burned within them as they listened. It must have been a wonderful experience to have the Scriptures before so dark and inaccessible, now made clear and understandable.
We should gladly read, hear and receive Holy Scripture, God’s Word. The Holy Spirit, whose power is with the Word, gives us understanding as we see with these disciples. They are struggling along the way to get into Scripture, but to no avail.
Therefore, the Lord joins himself to them, preaches a wonderful sermon to them so that they understand the Scriptures. The same will be true for us. If we will approach Scripture with earnestness, we will find to our heart’s great joy that we perceive Christ rightly, how he bore our sins, and how we shall live eternally, if only we remain simple students like these disciples and the women.
These two disciples did not dispute or question the Lord’s Word but bound themselves to it obediently. The Word burned within them and enlightened their hearts, so that they had no doubts concerning it, but were glad to hear it.
I pray that we all listen to the Word of our Lord so that we may have joyous hearts and believe. I pray we all hear the Word of our Lord so that we may recognize Him in our lives, but more importantly, that He will recognize us on the last day.
 [Martin Luther, Sermon on Luke 24:13-35 (1534), Luther's House Postils, 3 vols., ed. E. F. A. Klug (1996) 2:22, 23, 29, 31.]