Sunday, April 7, 2013

"The Only Stranger" - Luke 24:13-35 - April 7, 2013

Can you imagine never having heard the good news of Jesus’ resurrection?  Can you imagine Easter having come and gone and you missed it? This morning we listened as Luke’s gospel tells us the story of two of the disciples leaving Jerusalem in the wake of Jesus’ crucifixion. It appears they had seen all that they could endure and decided to leave the city and leave the horrible experiences of the past few days behind. We can hardly blame them for leaving.  But, nothing could have prepared them for what was about to happen to them.

We find the two engaged in conversation in the heat of the day on the dusty road. You can almost see them walking and talking together. Their conversation was intently and intensely focused on what they had experienced together over the past few days. Luke tells us: They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.  I would have loved to have heard what they had to say to each other. I wonder if they were talking about the Triumphant Entry; or maybe the cleansing of the Temple; or maybe what it was to watch the crowd turn on Jesus so quickly. Surely they were talking about the trials or the dramatic scene on Calvary. Perhaps they were talking about the resurrection stories reported from the women and affirmed by their friend. We cannot be sure what they were talking about at when the stranger appeared. In Eugene Peterson’s interpretive translation, The Message, we hear the story this way; In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was. He asked, What's this you're discussing so intently as you walk along?"  They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend.

Traditional translations say that they were prevented from recognizing Jesus.  Was it a divine act intended to keep Jesus’ identity secret so that they could more fully hear his teaching? Or was it that they were still so caught up in their own experiences, their own grief that they could not comprehend that Jesus was walking with them? Were they like Mary Magdalene, so focused on what they expected that they simply could not imagine a resurrected Jesus? Was this a literary device used by Luke to help the early church join the disciples in their surprise and joy when they realized that Jesus walked with them?[i]  Ultimately the “why” they did not recognize Jesus is not nearly as important as the conversation that they were about to share together. It is clear that in their grief and doubt they lost their way and walked away. Their hope had been shattered and their faith deeply wounded. They had listened to Jesus teach and had witnessed him perform miracles that could only be done in the power of God. They knew the story but missed its promise.

The conversation continues: Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, "Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn't heard what's happened during the last few days?" A better translation of this question might hear Cleopas ask, “Are you the single solitary person that has not heard what has happened in Jerusalem over these last few days?” Can you imagine what Jesus must have been thinking when they asked him this question?  Did he have any idea what had been going on in Jerusalem? What an incredibly ridiculous question?  The first hearers of this story must have burst into laughter when they heard the question.  They knew the answer. Of course he did.  But Jesus was in the redemption business and these two were heading the wrong direction. He (said) ask them, "What has happened?"

The two, one named Cleopas, and the other one, began to tell Jesus the story. Jesus listened as they told him about this “prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all of the people.” He listened as they told about the chief priests and religious rulers handing him over to be crucified. I have to wonder what Jesus must have felt when he heard them say; “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Do you think Jesus thought about turning away because of their unbelief?  Do you think the words stung his heart because they were so focused on who they wanted Jesus to be out of their own expectations that they missed the reality of who Jesus was and why he came from heaven?  Had the two become so consumed by the cultural expectation of a military messiah that they had missed the Messiah that came to love, save and redeem them? Do you think we can become so focused on what we want from God that we can miss God at work and walking in our midst? 

The two continued, telling him that they had heard the testimony of the women, the story about the angels and the tales of some of their companions that had seen the empty tomb. They had heard the story and missed it.  They had heard the testimony that Jesus was alive. They had been there to hear the story of the resurrection and simply could not imagine it to be true. But it seems that Jesus wants to reclaim and redeem all who called him Lord. He did not want anyone broken hearted and lost on the way. 

The two finished and Jesus speaks.  He redefines the experience of the two pulling together all the Scriptures that explained his death and resurrection. Their encounter on the road with a stranger is transformed into a time with the Savior. They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: "Stay and have supper with us. It's nearly evening; the day is done." So he went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared.  Back and forth they talked. "Didn't we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?"

In a moment reminiscent of the Last Supper they eyes were opened and their hearts burned. This encounter with Jesus is more than a moment when they come to recognize Jesus; it is a moment when they reconnect with his message of hope, redemption, life with God and life eternal.  They had been restored. These two were the first two to encounter Jesus along the road between where they were and Emmaus.  But, they are not the last. We too find our place on the road between where we are and Emmaus every time we walk way – when doubt overcomes faith – when frustration overcomes hope – when the baggage and fears from our past overcomes the future that God beckons us toward.  We too find ourselves on the road between where we are and Emmaus. The question is whether we will be so consumed by our grief and doubt – our fears and agenda – that we miss Jesus walking in our midst?

The story of the two ends in dramatic fashion. The two disciples sprint back to the other disciples to spread the good news that it was true, that Jesus had risen just as He said. They were called from the road to Emmaus to the highways and byways of living witness.  Jesus joined them on the road to remind them that they were called to more! They could testify that they knew this because of their own encounter on the road.  They had followed Jesus – had walked away in grief and despair – and were reclaimed by Jesus and returned to their journey of faith and faithfulness.

Their story is our story. We can become so comfortable in the living out of our everyday lives that we can miss God at work in our lives – that God is walking with us – hoping we will recognize him and embrace his gospel story. We are redeemed to follow; but there are moments when we are so clouded by our own experiences and emotions, so shaped by our own agendas and fears, that we lose focus. But, if we listen well and open our eyes we can have a fresh encounter with Jesus. Followship is a continuing journey of faith, faltering, and renewal; of an encounter on the road where Jesus meets us and helps us turn around and find our way back home to faith and following Him.

What will you do when you have your encounter with Jesus on the road between where you are and the place where you are headed?  Will you look up from your despair and doubt, your personal agendas and your expectations long enough to see the face of Jesus and to hear his voice?  Will you set aside all of the distractions to claim a time at the table with him and hear him offer you the Bread of Life? What will you do when you find that you have faltered or failed? Will you let him turn you around and put you on the right path again? You are called to more!  Open your eyes.  Jesus walks with you. Are you ready to get so close to Jesus that his voice resonates into your heart and life? Are you ready for your heart to burn and to lift your voice to tell his story to a world that lives as if Easter never happened? 

[i] Richard B. Vinson, “Luke,” Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary, (Smyth and Helwys: Macon, GA, 2008), pp. 744-752. 

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