Luke reminds us in the Acts of the Apostles, which we read during the Easter season, that it took time for the disciples to understand what the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus meant. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus are not the only ones slow to understand. All of them were.
Peter, who preaches to the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost, certainly was. He speaks on Pentecost, forty days after the Passover on which Jesus died and rose from the dead. The days immediately following easter, he’s speechless; it took awhile for him to learn and be enlightened about what this great mystery meant.
It’s the same with us. Each year the Lord refreshes our faith in the resurrection, but it’s not done in a day. Like the disciples, we need time to take it in, and so we have an easter season of forty days.
The Acts of the Apostles also say the disciples were slow to understand the mission they’re to carry out. That’s because it’s God’s plan, not theirs, a plan that outruns human understanding. A new age had come, the age of the Holy Spirit, and they didn’t understand it.
The Holy Spirit moves beyond our understanding of our mission. “The mission is willed, initiated, impelled and guided by God through the Holy Spirit. God moves ahead of the other characters. At a human level, Luke shows how difficult it is for the church to keep up with God’s action, follow God’s initiative, understand the precedents being established.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles)
We see things with human eyes and understanding. “You judge things as human beings do, not as God does,” Jesus says to Peter elsewhere in the gospel.
Like the others, Peter is slow to understand God’s plan, even after Jesus rises from the dead. He doesn’t know why he must go to Caesaria Maritima to baptize the gentile Cornelius and his household. (Acts 10,1-49) It’s completely unexpected. Only gradually will he embrace the mission to the gentiles and its implications. The other disciples are like him. God’s plan unfolds but they are hardly aware of it.
One thing they all learned quickly, though, as is evident in the Acts of the Apostles. Like Jesus, they would experience the mystery of his cross, and in that experience they would find wisdom.