There is a humorous teaching story about a drowning man that I think you have probably heard told a time or two: A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help. Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.” The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the rowboat went on. Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.” To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the motorboat went on. Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.” To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the helicopter reluctantly flew away. Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why! To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”
The story illustrates how foolish we can be in understanding the ways of God and prayer. We think that everything must unfold as we understand it. We expect that God will respond to us according to our expectations and preconceived ideas about God. We blame God for his absence and his neglect and so we walk away from him shaking our heads. We are too often fools. Now, we listen to this story and chuckle at it and say that we would never be that blind and insensitive to the presence of God in our lives and to his work in our lives. Yet, we too often are just that thick and dense when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus. We listen to the stories at Easter time and we hear the proclamation of the resurrection of our Lord and yet our lives remain unchanged by this monumental event of history. We listen to the gospel stories but do we really believe that Jesus is Risen, that he lives and is still present among us in the Eucharist, that he walks with us in our daily lives and that he wants to give us the Spirit of new and eternal life that has the power to save us? Do we truly live our lives in the joy and certain hope that we will one day be raised up with him in glory? If we really believed this then wouldn’t we be a little more committed to our faith, our discipleship and our spiritual life?
The story of the encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus is a story for all of us who are disciples of the Lord. Jesus exclaims to these two disciples, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!” How foolish we are! We would like to believe that we wouldn’t be as blind as these two disciples who are walking away from the Christian community but too often we fall into the same shortsightedness. We can’t see clearly what is right before our eyes.
First we notice that even though these are two disciples of Jesus, Jesus is a stranger to them. They don’t recognize him when he is walking right beside them! How many “disciples” of Jesus, who have been baptized, raised in the faith and go to church still see Jesus as a stranger in their lives? Though Jesus was walking right beside them, “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him”. We can know about Jesus but never really know Jesus. St. Jerome tells us that “ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” St. Peter reveals to us, “He was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you, who through him believe in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1Peter 1,21) Jesus came to reveal the Father to us and yet we are still largely ignorant of God.
Second, we fail to see revelation as an eye witness account and fail to accept the resurrection of Jesus as the truth. St. Peter says in Acts: “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured him forth, as you see and hear.” (Acts 2,32f) These two disciples heard of the resurrection of Jesus from: “some women from our group”, the angels, and two apostles. Still they did not believe. Our faith in Jesus is not just a personal opinion or philosophical construct, it is an eyewitness account!
Finally, Jesus reveals himself in the Eucharist and finally their eyes are opened. What does it take for God to get our attention? Why do so many leave the Church like these two downcast apostles? Just because it doesn’t meet their expectations? Oh, how foolish we are!