|“Road to Emmaus” by Caravaggio|
In the Caravaggio painting Christ is seated at table with the two disciples while an innkeeper and wife (I suppose) look on. Outside of the figures and the table scene the rest of the image is black and in shadows. A light shines from the left illuminating the scene. Half of Christ’s face is in shadow. The Lord’s right hand is raised in a symbol of blessing over the bread and his eyes are downcast. One disciples grips the table as if stunned and the other disciple (whose back is turned toward us) raises his hands in shocked amazement. Caravaggio has captured the moment of recognition when the risen Lord reveals himself to the two disciples in the breaking of the bread!
Outside of this the innkeeper and his wife look on as if there is nothing out of the ordinary and this I find fascinating. Here is the risen Lord revealing himself in the breaking of the bread to the two disciples yet without the eyes of faith to recognize what is transpiring it seems that there is nothing extraordinary occurring. In fact, it is the most ordinary of scenes.
Why did the risen Lord choose something so ordinary, so mundane in order to communicate and give himself to us? In the first reading for this feast (Ex. 24:3-8) we have the scene of Moses erecting an altar and holocausts being offered and the blood of bulls being sprinkled. This is far from ordinary! In the second reading (Hebrews 9:11-15) we have a reflection on Christ as the High Priest who reconciles us to God and one another through his own blood. Again, far from ordinary. In the gospel (Mark 14:12-16, 22-26) we have the scene of the Last Supper – Jesus blessing and giving the bread and giving the cup while saying, “This is my body … This is my blood …” Apart from those most important of words the scene itself is very ordinary (a teacher and his disciples sharing a meal).
The gift of faith makes all the difference. Without faith it just seems so ordinary, not even really being worthy of notice. With faith our hands grip the table in stunned amazement! In this most ordinary of scenes the risen Lord is present and God bestows his very life upon us!
The second image is also surrounded by shadow and darkness. Again the eyes of the faithful are turned toward a set point. Again, in many ways, the scene is very ordinary. It is a house in China. The people are attired in clothes that we are familiar with. Yet, from the road to Emmaus it is now two thousand years later and on the other side of the world. The Mass is being offered in the persecuted and underground Catholic Church in China. The priest elevates the host. His face is hidden behind his arms. Again Christ reveals himself in the breaking of the bread!
Once more the eyes of faith are what determine our understanding. Without faith all we can see is a photo of some obscure and, according to some people, even suspect ritual. With faith, we find ourselves with the two disciples in Emmaus and with the original twelve in the upper room and we hear those words, “This is my body … This is my blood …”
Christ has chosen to reveal and give of himself in the ordinary occurrence of bread and wine. Without faith it is seems to be nothing of much value; with faith it is recognized as the very Body and Blood of Christ – the answer given to the deepest hunger, thirst and yearning of the human heart.