May 8, 2011
It is one of the failings of human beings that we put so much value on appearance and first impressions. A limp handshake makes you doubt a person’s strength of character. Attractive people are naturally assumed to be smarter and more intelligent. Even your name causes people to decide who you are before they even get to know you. The whole concept of speed-dating is based on the idea that we can learn all we need to know about a person in five minutes or less. In my experience, people are sometimes – but more often not – what they seem. And we often get in the quick-to-judge trap and miss out on friendships or romance.
Certainly our gospel this morning is based on the idea of not looking more deeply at the people we meet, of failing to see Jesus in our midst. Two weary disciples, walking from Jerusalem, encounter a stranger on the road. “What are you talking about?” the stranger asks. “How can you not know?” one of the disciples asks, and then goes on to summarize the past events. And the two men go on in detail about the recent events: the crucifixion of Jesus, the women who upon visiting the tomb found him gone and reported back. “But they did not see him,” the disciples say. So we are to understand that either they are telling the story secondhand and missed that part, or didn’t believe the women. Or, we are reminded that they are not seeing Jesus even as they speak to him.
This gospel lesson is meant to teach us not to miss Jesus, or more specifically, the Jesus figures in our lives. Jesus, we are to see, is not solely the man of history, or the saviour on the cross, but as one speaking to us through the people that we encounter. The idea that Jesus still walks among us is a reassuring one, since it expresses a certain faith in humanity and serves as a concrete example of the incarnation happening in each one of us. The spirit of Jesus is not meant to be locked in a box, or set in stone; it is fluid, ever-changing, and we catch a glimpse of him when we need it most. In a friend who learns of a grave diagnosis and embraces us rather than running away. In a political figure who takes a brave stand and inspires us. In the eyes of the homeless guy on the street who has lost his way, and reminds us of our own role to make society better. And then by that understanding we must turn it inward on ourselves and become as Jesus to others. Inspiring. Praising. Constructively guiding. Instilling Hope.
It’s Mother’s Day, and there’s hardly a person other than a mother whose image and role has been more the subject of praise and also debate and derision throughout history. In the last hundred years especially, the idea of what makes a good mother has been ever shifting – from the woman as the dutiful wife and distracted mother, to the mother we have arrived at today, who is expected, it seems, to be all things to everyone, working and putting her children first. As much as we value mothers, we are conflicted about them. Research shows that women experience a mommy penalty at work, more likely to be judged as incompetent and less committed than women without kids, and as a result paid a lower salary. In those cases, we have already decided who they are without looking deeper.
Our relationships with our mothers are often complicated, fraught with embrace and distance at alternating times. And we often tie their identities so much to being mothers, or in that mothering role – of us, or our own kids – that we fail to see farther, to see them as people. I know with my own mother that there are times that she drives me nuts. But I also know that she loves me and has her own life filled with its own complexity, and her reactions are not always about me.
The lesson of the gospel is that people are far more complex than we give them credit for being. Humanity lives in a constant state of varying context and perception. And people are changed by experience and become changed before our eyes.
It takes Jesus to bop the disciples on the head before they know him – and yet he gave them clues, tricking them into reciting the story of Jesus, and then explaining what it meant in detail. We should be on the lookout for those same clues: the times when a friend’s smile seems just a little forced and they might need us to ask how they are. Or when our spouse is unusually quiet. Or when we read the paper and watch the news and see a place where we might contribute. Jesus gave those clues to the disciples and he has left clues for us to see the gospel in the world around us, if we can only teach ourselves to find something special in those people or events that feel or look ordinary.
Ultimately though, if Jesus is inside others, he is also inside us. True, in the way that we are supposed to be in mission for others. But also in a quiet reassuring way that tells us we are not only as other see us, or as others tell us we are. We are individuals in a way that only God can truly know.
This Mother’s Day take some time to be with your mother. And if you can’t be with her physically, take a moment or two to remember her. Find that image of Jesus within her that you may have lost sight of. Find that moment to be Christ to her either in person or in prayer. As surely as Jesus is on the road throughout our lives, so are these women who we honour today. They may come to us as my mother often does with moments of advice. They may come to us as a thought on the road of life. Don’t miss out on these moments. They are, as Christ has shown, moments of inspiration, guidance, and hope.