The Gospels are filled with stories about Jesus sharing meals. Each story tells us something more than that he was hungry. Some of them illustrate his observance of Passover (Lk 17:35); others depict him as a dinner guest at the homes of Simon the Pharisee or Jesus’ friend Martha (Lk 7:36; 10:40). There is even mention that Jesus was criticized for eating and not fasting as did John the Baptist. Today’s Gospel opens with two disciples reporting how they recognized Jesus “in the breaking of the bread.” The story recounts how Jesus ate with the disciples in order to reassure them.
Why did they need reassurance? Because they were terrified when the risen Jesus stood in their midst. The Gospel paints a tender scene. Jesus first comforts them with words of peace. Then, in order to prove that he is not a ghost, he asks to eat with them. Like so many other “appearance” stories, this account lays bare the incredulity of the disciples. It shows that they had little comprehension of who Jesus was and what he had undergone. So “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” and he gave them a great deal to chew on.
Jesus is not only the center of their amazement, but he is also the focus of their instruction. Like a patient teacher, he goes over once again the lessons he had taught them earlier during his public ministry, the meaning of which they obviously had not grasped at the time. Now, in the light of the resurrection, he explains how he has truly fulfilled the aspirations of Israel, even though he has fulfilled them in a way that the people could never have imagined. Now, through the very simple human acts of breaking bread and eating fish, he opens their inner eyes, enabling them to see that it really is he.
Later, as the first reading shows, Paul will turn to the same sacred tradition and deliver a commanding lesson on messianic fulfillment. He will acknowledge that the leaders of the people, and the people themselves, acted out of ignorance when they rejected Jesus and put him to death for making the claims that he did. Paul too knows that only after the resurrection does one realize that the claims were valid; Jesus is indeed the Holy and Righteous One.
It is easy to identify with the disciples. We too get so caught up in the details of everyday life that we fail to recognize the risen Lord in our midst. Still, who has not experienced a deep longing for that recognition? Who does not hope to hear the simple words of loving familiarity: “Have you anything here to eat?”