The last chapter of Luke is exciting, strange, and frightening. Jesus appears to people, walks miles with them even, and they don’t recognize him. He is there, literally, in their presence, and they don’t see him. Not, at least, until he breaks the bread.
Of course, this depiction of Jesus’ followers having eyes to see and yet not seeing is only the same song in another key. We have already heard of the disciples who heard clear as day that Jesus had to suffer and die, yet could not hear this. They had ears to hear and yet could not hear.
These are the marvelous moments in scripture that cause me to assume that most of what I/we know is as likely to keep me/us from faithfully following Jesus as it is to draw us closer and prove to be the means for clear vision. We can know all there is to know about theology, the role of the messiah, salvation, God’s plans for salvation–and still fail to see Jesus.
One way that we fall into this failing to see is tied with the Lord’s Supper. That is the meal of reenactment: Jesus gives his body for us–and we all take it, being made one in the body of Christ. As Paul works out his union with Christ theology in 1 Corinthians we discover, perhaps to our surprise, that the closest we come to seeing Jesus face to face is when we look into the eyes of our sisters and brothers in the church. We are the body of Christ.
And so, this question, is for us in community with one another: do we see Jesus? Are we looking and perceiving his face on the face of the person next to us in the pew? the person who is perpetually needy? the person with whom we are perpetually frustrated? the child who won’t sit still?
The idea that we are the body of Christ, and know it, means that there is the danger of a culpable blindness–the sort of failure to see that comes when we see in the communion, in the self-giving of Jesus, merely a statement about me as an individual before God. If we don’t realize that it is about us, thinking instead that it is only about me, our seeing eyes have become blind.
This idea plays out in a similar vein in Matthew’s Gospel. The famous passage of final judgment, in which the Son of Man is on his throne, depicts a world full of the presence of Jesus–and Jesus’ would-be servants proving themselves too blind to see the face of their master.
The King, who is the Son of Man, to whose Father the Kingdom belongs, invites some in, and sends others away. The standard of admission? Giving food and drink and visitation to the King. When did we see you, Jesus? “Whenever you gave (or not) to the least of my brothers, you gave (or not) to me.”
Here we are still focused on the community, and the needy in the community. And, we are confronted once again with the stark reality that Jesus is embodied in his followers. And, we are confronted with the quite frightening possibility that our eyes may be too dull to recognize that when we look on the family, we see the image of the eldest brother into which we are all being renewed.
Maybe there’s something apropos in all this for Halloween. Masks aren’t the only things that keep us from seeing who someone really is. Sometimes apprehending a person’s true identity is less a matter of seeing their face and more a matter of having eyes to see.