A woman came to see me during my first parish assignment. It was just a few months after my priestly ordination. She wanted me to sign the marriage bans for her daughter’s wedding, so I gave her an appointment. On the day of the appointment, a few minutes before the appointed time, she came to the rectory and saw a young man trimming the flowers in the garden. Realising that she forgot to come with an extra copy of the document, she walked up to the young man and begged him to quickly go to a nearby shop to get her a duplicate of the document while she waits for the priest to come out. The young man hurriedly went to a photocopy centre in the parish to get her a duplicate copy and handed it to her. On his arrival, the woman said with relief, “thank you my son, and thank God the priest has not come out yet.” But when the young man told her that the priest had come out long ago, she panicked in confusion and disappointment and asked “where did he go?”. The young man said to her, “he just got you the duplicate copy you asked for”. And we both started laughing. This is the power of recognition. Everything changes when we recognise who or what we are dealing with.
Today’s readings demonstrate how recognition can change things for the better. Our encounter with God begins with recognition. Peter and John experienced a man at the temple gate, who has commercialised his predicament. This man was a cripple from birth who normalised his situation with material expectations. He knows what he is expecting from people and would not ask for anything more.
When Peter and John approached him, he asked for alms as he would normally ask anyone else, but he received something more…his healed legs. What is remarkable here is that Peter and John acknowledged that they can’t help him with what he wants but they could help him with what he needs. This is because Peter and John recognize the power of the resurrected Jesus within them, and this recognition changed things for this man. Like this man who sees his situation as a means of making money and treats the temple as a commercial centre, we often approach God for material benefits and by so doing we fail to recognise Him for who He is.
When the confused disciples left for Emmaus, 7 miles away from Jerusalem, they thought they were giving themselves a deserved break from the crazy week of Jesus’ passion and death. Jesus has not met their expectation, so they give up. In this situation, they did not recognize that Jesus was not done with them. Jesus is with them in their confusion. He is with them in their desertion. Those who approach God with selfish expectations give up on Him easily because they fail to recognise Him in changing situations. We act like these two disciples and this crippled beggar when our relationship with God is determined by what we want or expect from Him, rather than how to build a relationship with Him. These expectations becloud and hinder our ability to recognise him even when he walks with us in our situation. And until we drop our sordid expectations, and seek his kingdom and its righteousness first, we cannot recognize him even in the breaking of the bread at Mass.