April 19, 2017 – Wednesday in the Octave of Easter
Homily originally delivered at St. Pius X Parish, Indianapolis, IN in May of 2014
The Road to Emmaus – Luke 24:13-35
In the early 70’s, the makers of V-8 Juice began running TV ads that included the now-famous line, “I could’ve had a V-8!” The slogan has stood the test of time, and the company is running similar commercials even today. The premise of the ads was that after eating something unhealthy, the person in the commercial would suddenly realize that the better option would have been to have the healthier alternative, V-8 Juice. Upon making this discovery, they would smack their foreheads with the palm of their hand and say, “I could’ve had a V-8!”
Through a Google search, I learned that the palm to forehead smack in the commercials is referred to as a “forehead bonk.” The forehead bonk translates to: “I wasn’t thinking straight; I missed out on a great opportunity.” The bonk is apparently intended to put the brain back in its proper place so the same mistake is not made in the future.
I found myself thinking of these V-8 commercials when I re-read the familiar story of the Road to Emmaus in Luke’s Gospel today.
Jesus walked for miles with two of His disciples without them knowing it. How did this happen? They knew Jesus. As disciples, they had followed Him from place to place. They had sat for hours hearing Him preach and had grown to love Him. Yet, the entire time He walked with them, they thought He was just another traveler on the road. Luke tells us, “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.”
Later these same disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Their eyes were opened. I can picture the disciples giving themselves forehead bonks and saying, “Jesus is alive!”
The central question to consider is this: What was it that prevented their eyes from recognizing Jesus? We are given no evidence to indicate that there was anything wrong with their eyes or that Jesus was wearing a disguise.
What kept those disciples from recognizing Jesus was doubt.
From their perspective, they had no reason to believe that the person who walked next to them was Jesus. After all, they had seen Him crucified with their own eyes. Jesus was dead and buried. He had hinted about rising from the dead. Scripture foretold of such things. They had even heard rumors that Jesus’ tomb had been found empty. But people don’t rise from the dead.
As much as they had hoped and prayed for the coming of the Christ, being eyewitnesses to His crucifixion and death made it difficult to believe that Jesus truly could be that Christ. Despite their own hopes, the promises made by Jesus, and the support of Scriptures, they still doubted. Their doubt prevented them from recognizing that Jesus was in their midst.
Jesus was alive.
Like the disciples, doubt is often what keeps us from recognizing Jesus in our midst. We seem to be able to recognize Jesus in the good times. We trust because our productive, successful, happy lives are evidence that Jesus is alive.
Our trust is challenged in the tough times. A loved one is sick and we may feel Jesus has abandoned us. We lose our job and it is difficult to recognize Jesus in our lives. Relationships with spouses, children, or friends go through a rough patch and we feel alone.
When we doubt Jesus, doubt that He is alive and active in our lives, our eyes are prevented from seeing Him. But He is traveling with us on our Road to Emmaus.
He is the nurse who is taking such good care of your loved one. He is the co-worker who comforted you and encouraged you when you lost your job. When you are feeling alone, He is the one you are pushing away.
As disciples of Jesus who want to trust, who want to believe, we leave the door cracked open, hoping He is alive. At some point, we experience Him in the actions of others. We recognize Him in “breaking of the bread type moments.”
We may find ourselves bonking our own foreheads and saying, “Jesus is alive!”
We realize two things at that point: First, Jesus had been with us all along. Second, we missed out on something special during our time of doubt. We missed out on an opportunity to grow in our relationship with Jesus.
Today’s readings describe what it is like to feel the presence of God, to know that Jesus is active in our lives and alive in our hearts. From today’s first reading from Acts: “I saw the Lord ever before me…Therefore my heart has been glad…”
In the Gospel, the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, upon realizing that Jesus had been with them all along, say: “Were not our hearts burning within us?”
When doubt is removed, when we trust in His presence, our hearts too can experience the gladness; our hearts too can burn within us. I would much rather have a heart burning with the love of Jesus, then to have the headache that comes from a forehead bonk.