I’ve changed parishes a number of times during my priesthood. Each time, there are some things that make it feel as though I’m starting over, from the very beginning. For the first little while, I look out at a sea of faces as I preside at the Mass, and I wonder: what’s that person’s story? It’s one thing to see a person standing in front of me, but it’s an entirely different thing to be given the privilege of getting to know that person – to know his or her history, to understand the things that make that person happy, to be aware of painful moments that have been experienced and that have left their scars. We don’t always get a chance to know people at that level, but if we do, we should consider it to be truly a privilege.
The twelve apostles had a particularly privileged opportunity to live with Jesus for three years or so. I can only imagine what they must have learned from him, what they must have learned about him. Even other disciples – followers of Jesus – who sat at his feet and listened to his teachings were indeed fortunate, however I think that some of them did not recognize the extent of their good fortune, not until they encountered the risen Jesus.
We hear about two such encounters in today’s gospel: the first is the adventure that was experienced by the two disciples who encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus (cf Lk 24:35) and the second is the apparition that took place while they were speaking (cf Lk 24:36-48) about that encounter with the other disciples.
It would have been one thing to know Jesus up close: to be familiar with his favorite foods, his likes and dislikes, the things that excited him and the things that bored him ... but the disciples were also the ones who witnessed the fulfillment of his promise: that he would rise from the dead. Those who encountered the risen Jesus saw something truly extraordinary. Never before had anyone died and then come back to life. Never before had anyone spoken to them about the fulfillment of the Law, the prophets and the Psalms
(Lk 24:44), yet they were granted the extreme privilege to meet him, to see the marks of the nails in his hands and his feet, to witness him eating among them just as he had done countless times before.
Their encounters with the risen Jesus also marked each one of the disciples in a permanent, unchangeable way. Even today, anyone who has had the experience of meeting Jesus in prayer and of hearing him speak to our hearts can truly say that he or she is deeply fortunate.
Like the disciple Peter, who spoke about his encounter with the risen Jesus at the gate of the temple (cf Acts 3:13-19) and like John, who wrote about his encounters with the risen Jesus and about the truth that he had come to believe, we too have been granted the great privilege of being called God’s children
(1 Jn 2:1) and we have also been entrusted with the great gift of knowing him (cf 1 Jn 2:5).We are witnesses to these things
(Lk 24:48), if we have the eyes to see them.