Why Don’t They Recognize Jesus?

Blessed Easter!

If you have ever gone to Mass during the Octave of Easter and listened to the various accounts of Jesus’ appearances after he rose from the dead, it’s striking: nobody recognizes Jesus!

I have heard all kinds of reasons given in sermons and books: No one expected him to rise from the dead (except his Mother, and we have no account of Jesus’ appearance to Mary, who would have recognized her Son no matter what!); the appearance of Jesus’ risen body was so different that they couldn’t tell it was him; they were so blinded by their grief and tears; they didn’t believe he could or would rise from the dead; they didn’t really look at Jesus when they were speaking to him, etc. Maybe it was some combination of all of these.

But really, it’s quite a mystery. Emotions must have been running high—at first over Jesus’ death, and then over the accounts of his Resurrection! But that still doesn’t explain why so many of the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus. Yet, these are wonderful Scripture passages to reflect on in the light of our current discernment. How many times we do not recognize the Provident hand of God guiding us until afterwards…maybe years later? Why do we struggle so hard to see God’s presence in our lives, to hear his invitations, to recognize his will for us?

I think the real question is, What interior blindness prevents us from recognizing the Lord in our current situation?

For me, I often find that it is my expectation of a situation or a person that prevents me from seeing how the Lord could be present when the situation turns out to be so utterly different than what I thought it would. To have expectations is not wrong; that is simply to be human. But to cling to my own expectations and not be able to let go of them—that blinds me to staying in the present moment and thus, to the Lord’s invitation to me.

Some of the obstacles to discerning the Lord’s presence that we see in this week’s Resurrection accounts are:

  • weeping, grief, loss
  • fear
  • the traumatic effects of witnessing their beloved Master’s torture and death
  • not looking
  • hopelessness/discouragement
  • doubt
  • disbelief
  • expectations of something different
  • lack of trust in others’ witness accounts
  • not listening earlier to Jesus’ words about rising from the dead
  • guilt (over denying Jesus)
  • distance
  • hardness of heart

To Bring To Prayer

Pray with one of this week’s Gospel readings in light of a person/situation/event in your life where you cannot discern the presence or will of the Lord. How does the Gospel passage you chose “speak” to why you cannot recognize the Lord?

MK 16:1-7 The angel tells the women “He is not here”

MT 28:8-15 Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and “the other” Mary

JN 20:11-18 Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene

LK 24:13-35 Jesus appears to the disciples on the way to Emmaus

LK 24:35-48 Jesus appears to the disciples in the Upper Room

JN 21:1-14 Jesus appears to the disciples fishing

MK 16:9-15 Summary of the accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection


What Do We Need To Be Freed from To Discern Well?

06Z Pixabay

One of our biggest obstacles in discerning God’s will in our life is ourselves. Because of original sin—the sin of Adam and Eve which has marked every human being—we are prone to sin. In our discernments, we want to “sort through” our desires, distinguishing between disordered desires which can lead to sin and genuine desires that well up from deep within and reflect our true identity.

Sometimes when we find ourselves in difficult situations, we’ll discover that our main difficulty is really ourselves. We might think that if we just didn’t have to deal with this situation, or this person, or this challenge, we’d be fine. And then we end up in a new situation and we find that it’s not the situation that was the problem, it’s ourselves and how we deal with the situation.

* * *

I remember one time as a younger sister when I found myself in what I thought was a really difficult situation. Another sister and I really clashed, and it made community life really challenging for me. At the end of the year, I was transferred to a new community. At first I was thrilled, thinking everything was great. Then I started running into the exact same difficulties that I had run into before!

Gradually, I realized that although the circumstances of life would never be perfect, what made them unmanageable was me. My particular faults—in this case my high expectations, my desires for perfection, and my impatience with others—were really at the root of my problem in getting along with the other sisters. It was a hard lesson to learn, but a wonderful opportunity to get to know myself better. I realized that sometimes—perhaps more often than I’d like to admit—I am my own worst enemy!

* * *

In discernment, we spend a lot of time seeking greater freedom. (This is why sometimes we need to take a longer time to discern.) In our discernments, we seek freedom:

  • from our ego
  • from our tendency to seek ourselves or to put ourselves ahead of God
  • from our disordered desires
  • from the world’s materialistic and secular perspective
  • from others’ expectations

When Saint John the Baptist was pointing to Christ as the Messiah, he made a wonderful statement that fits this aspect of discernment: “He [Christ] must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). Discernment is about giving Christ and his will for us more and more space in our life, so that our true identity as disciples of Christ can clearly emerge.

The biggest obstacle to discernment

sad-505857_1280The overarching, biggest obstacle to discerning God’s will in our lives is sin, because sin is directly opposed to doing God’s will. Sin is a rejection of God and seeks to put self in the place of God, to seek one’s own will above God’s.

Striving to live a good moral life is a prerequisite for making a good discernment. When we are trapped in a cycle of serious sin, God’s will for us is clearly to convert and enter (or return to) the state of grace, which is a sharing in God’s own life. Even venial sins, which do not disconnect us from communion with God, but weaken our relationship with God, compromise our ability to hear and respond generously to God’s will.

Sinfulness affects our discernment because sin is slavery, setting limits to genuine freedom. Sinfulness deafens us to God’s invitations, blocks our openness to God’s voice, and prevents us from responding wholeheartedly to God’s call. Sometimes, our motivations in discerning could be mixed between good intentions and sinful ones. For example, when we discern whether or not to do something, we might choose to do a good thing out of selfishness or vanity, rather than a desire to serve God. We may still end up doing God’s will–because God can use even our weaknesses to bring about good–but not because we discerned well!

The best preparation for discernment is to live fully our Catholic Faith, to live in continual conversion so that gradually we are freed from the claws of sin. Helps to living a good moral life include:

  • Prayer
  • Reading and praying with the Word of God
  • Receiving the sacraments, most especially Reconciliation (or Penance) and the Holy Eucharist
  • The examination of conscience
  • Acts of charity for others (e.g. the works of mercy)

None of us are exempt from the necessity of examining our lives and our moral choices, repenting of and confessing our sins, doing penance, and praying for the grace to live in conversion and avoid sin in the future. Perhaps you noticed that many of the very means that we use to grow in holiness are the same means that we are encouraged to use in discerning. That’s because discernment is part of the journey to holiness, a specific way of growing spiritually. The more we grow in our life in Christ, the freer we become interiorly, and the more receptive we are to God’s graced invitations.