I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s wondered why no one recognizes that Clark Kent is Superman. Or Superman is Clark Kent. Is a pair of glasses and a suit really enough?
Actually, CNN reported last year that the University of York did a study that indicated there was a “significant” change in recognition of persons study participants didn’t know from when they were not wearing glasses to when they were. Accuracy dropped a whopping 6%. They weren’t suggesting that answers the Superman question, but it did raise some questions about facial recognition from picture ID in places like airports where 6% can mean millions of people.
But setting that scary thought aside for a moment, one might also consider change of clothes and, most importantly, context as reasons why someone might not be recognized. So maybe glasses, a suit and a job at a newspaper are enough to hide Superman.
Okay, says the actor Henry Cavill, who played Superman in two blockbuster movies, let’s try it. He hung around Times Square in New York last summer doing a little promotion/social experiment. He just walked around wearing a Superman t-shirt, even standing in front of giant billboards with his picture on advertising the new Superman movie. He bought coffee and sat in a coffee shop. Not one person recognized him. He posted pictures on Instagram with the caption “the glasses are enough.”
I know, you’re probably thinking I’m wasting your time here. After all, it’s just a story, a comic book creation of an imaginative mind.
Well, here’s a story. The Gospel of Luke tells the story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus who meet Jesus “that same day” that the women discovered the tomb was empty (Luke 21:13-35). They’re lost in the events of the last few days and, when Jesus joins them on the road, they don’t recognize him. He asks them about what happened and they talk, the disciples sharing what happened and how they felt, Jesus sharing with them why it was so important that it happened. Jesus stays with them for supper and they finally recognize him “in the breaking of the bread.”
These disciples didn’t know it was Jesus until he did something they recognized as being a Jesus-like thing to do. That’s when they realized, “were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” He was being Jesus all along and only just then did they realize it.
They’d heard the story that Jesus was alive, they told the stranger as much, but they don’t seem to believe it any more than the others did. Perhaps they were also waiting to see Jesus in person before they believed it. And yet here he is, not introducing himself as Jesus, not showing them the wounds in his hands and feet, but just being Jesus.
I wonder if these disciples might then have told others this story and said something like “I can’t believe we didn’t know it was Jesus right away! He was doing just what Jesus did, talking with us, teaching us, lifting us up. And we just didn’t see it.” It wasn’t a stranger, it was Jesus.
We’re still doing that, aren’t we? We say “Jesus is alive” and then look for Jesus to appear as we expect Jesus should. Much like we so often choose to see people as who we think they should be rather than be open to who they are. It’s just not that easy to “be open” to encountering Jesus, any more than being open to a stranger for who they are. There’s no doubt it’s challenging. But it is worthwhile. If Jesus is alive in all of us, how else will you meet him? He might be wearing glasses.