Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘emmaus’

Who Do You Meet on the Road?

Luke 24  

 path

Not that long ago if we needed to walk, drive, or take public transportation to a place we asked other people how to get there. Then, we used paper maps. After that, we typed the address into a computer and printed out Mapquest directions. Remember that?

mapquest

Then the GPS with the somewhat unreliable suction. And now, of course, when we want to go somewhere we simply tell our phone where want to go, the mode of transportation, and we not only get directions to that place, but how long it will take us, alternative routes due to traffic, construction, or a Godzilla attack, and also we get to see our progress on the screen, right before our eyes.

The roads we travel have seemingly become more accessible with this kind of technology. It is true—we are traveling more now as a human species than ever before. We honestly don’t have the same excuses for not going places and the whole “I got lost” argument usually falls pretty flat these days. All that aside, traveling the road to a destination is an important metaphor in life. I invite you to think about all the different kinds of roads you have traveled on—and all the different kinds of places those roads led you to.

When I was younger and living in rural Iowa, country roads [and even gravel roads] were part of life. I spent a lot of my time walking down these roads, as public transportation was scarce and I didn’t have a car. Where we lived in Central Iowa, the roads rolled over hills [yes, Iowa has hills!] and at the top of certain hills you could see for miles. Before you got to the top of the hill, though, you couldn’t see anything. Gravel roads are interesting, mainly because anything or anyone that has traveled ahead of you kicks up dust. The general rule when you are walking on a gravel road is to wear sunglasses or to walk backwards. Otherwise, you’ll be begging for eye drops in a hot second. The other type of road in Iowa I remember distinctly is highway 65/69. That thing went on forever, and when we had to go to faraway places, at times I felt that it would never end. The speed limit is 75 and you still feel like you’re crawling along. Maybe it’s the eternal stretch of cornfields on your way through Nebraska? Think about all the different kinds of roads you have traveled on.

The reason that the road is a an oft-used metaphor for life isn’t hard to understand, is it? Because all of us use all kinds of roads to get from one place to another. The roads wind and turn and go up and down and stretch for miles. They are made of dirt, cobblestone, gravel, asphalt, grass, and rock.

Sometimes we can see what’s ahead on the road; sometimes we can’t see anything at all.

The other part of the road is life metaphor is who you meet on that road. Believe it or not, even on lonely, country roads in rural Iowa I met people, or sometimes other living beings. As you can imagine, along a country road in Iowa, there were animals. Cows, pigs, sheep, dogs, cats, deer, and all sorts of creatures. Just when I thought I was completely alone on the road, they greeted me with a sound or a smell or a movement. And from time to time I encountered a farmer, or a person walking their dog, or someone on a tractor. Kids would appear on bikes or motorcycles. Cars whizzed past. It honestly makes me think a lot about life. There have been many times when I have felt like I was walking down a lonely stretch of rural Iowa roads—not sure if I would encounter anyone, not convinced that the road would ever come to an end. And then, I was surprised. I was surprised by life I didn’t expect to see—connections with people that recharged my batteries and picked me up off the mat.

Those connections with people on the road of life, whether short or long ones, helped me get to know myself better and reminded me that I was not alone.

Of course, part of the road has also included recognizing that unfortunately, some people I meet on the road are not kind and not healthy for me to be around. Those encounters [and the consequent walking on/moving on from those relationships] taught me a lot about the kinds of people who really do care and truly accept me.

The story in the Gospel of Luke 24 is often called “The Road to Emmaus.” It involves two people, former followers of Jesus of Nazareth, walking on a road after Jesus’ death. Emmaus, according to historians and scholars, probably was not a real place at all. Further, the two people on the road are not identifiable. So this is the storyteller saying to us: You are Cleopas. You are walking on that road with someone. You don’t know where that road will take you—Emmaus? Timbuktu? A hole in the space-time continuum? We are walking down that road. And we don’t know where it leads. But where we are going/where the two disciples are going, isn’t the point.

The point is who they meet on the road.

A stranger. Any random person you may encounter while at the grocery store, a park, on a street corner. A stranger. You have no expectations for this encounter. But the stranger seems to care about what you’re going though. You’re sad, lost, distracted. The stranger listens. This stranger then seems to share some of your sacred stories and important feelings. The stranger accepts you as you are, where you are on that road to seemingly nowhere. Eventually, the two travelers in the story recognize the stranger. It was Jesus—their teacher, their friend. They felt connected again, but only after they ate together. Must have reminded them of their favorite moments on the road. In fact, their eyes were open and they even saw themselves as newly alive.

Now I know that for many of you, maybe Jesus won’t be the stranger you meet on the road. Maybe that religious narrative isn’t where you are right now. We get caught up with the name and concept of Jesus too much, if you ask me. So just consider—if you were to meet a stranger on the road who listened to you, accepted you, and inspired you to open your eyes—who would that person be?

And, are you open enough to affirm that this person could actually be anyone? The person next to you pumping gas? The child laughing at the playground? A teacher? An acquaintance at church, or school, or work?

See, I think that Jesus never meant for us to be so reliant on some religious idea of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. I think that Jesus meant for his followers and friends to find resurrection in themselves, along the journey, on the road, and to have their eyes opened by the encounters with people on that road. Because when we share with each other, we feel less alone and more connected. When we open ourselves to random encounters and distance ourselves from the unhealthy encounters—the ones that try to change our story and don’t accept us as we are. When we do that, I think we can be surprised. We can meet each other on the road and find encouragement and connection. Because this road is not a straight line. And sometimes you will feel alone and disconnected. But keep walking your unique road. Encounter people who will truly listen to you and accept you. May our eyes be opened.

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Walking Forward

Luke 24:13-35

Watch this Israeli filmmaker walking forward, yet backwards….

This creative illusion is an example of two things:

How what we see can play tricks on us [depending on our conditioning]

Walking forward, even when it’s actually walking backward…is moving.

Look, if any of us are healthy enough to walk—we should walk, and as much as possible. If we know someone who physically cannot walk, we ought to walk with that person, pushing his/her chair or whatever they need to get around. Walking helps us to notice things around us.

Walking is not just a physical act, though—it’s a metaphor for life.
Life is a journey and we walk on that journey.

At times, we journey through harsh storms and incredibly low moments.
Other times on the journey, we walk in joy and gratitude.
Sometimes the journey is confusing and we’re not sure where to walk.
And at times, life can get so heavy and so overwhelming that we decide to stop walking all together.

But there is a story, I think, that can give us some rich perspective about our journey in life.

It’s Luke’s walking to Emmaus story.

This particular account only appears in Luke’s gospel and features two mysterious characters who meet another mysterious character on the road to a town called Emmaus. So where was Emmaus? Most scholars believe it was about 7 ½ miles Northwest of Jerusalem.[1] Two followers of Jesus of Nazareth were on their way there from Jerusalem where they had just celebrated the Passover. Maybe Emmaus was their home?

But who in the heck were these people anyway?

Good question.

Many believe that they were among “the rest” that Luke 24:9 mentions and so they were not part of the eleven remaining disciples. In fact, the only clue we’re given as to their identity is the name of one of them—Cleopas.

Yet, it’s not much of a clue, because Cleopas is not mentioned in the other gospels at all.

So who is the other person? Do we assume that he was a man? If we believe that Cleopas was walking to his home in Emmaus with his companion, was it their home? Maybe they were family. It’s up for grabs, folks, who the other person [male or female] was.

It gets even more interesting if you consider that this New Testament story seems similar to an Old Testament story in Genesis.
Abraham and Sarah, in their walking story, discover three angels in Genesis 18, i.e. the presence of G-d. They, like the two mysterious disciples of Jesus, do not recognize who it is they are with.

Or perhaps it’s better to say that both Abraham and Sarah, and the two disciples had their eyes closed.
And so they couldn’t see what they were walking past or with whom they were walking.

Deep depression can do that to us, right? Confusion, or just being in a hurry, or desperation.

Anxiety, anyone?

ohnoJesus was dead and so was their dream of something changing.
So they couldn’t see any present or future that had hope or promise.
I think they probably dragged their feet.
I think they were not walking forward.

Even when this mysterious stranger is telling them the whole story about what happened before, during, and after the events of the cross at Golgotha—they still didn’t seem to wake up.

You see, like most of us, when we’re really, really down on ourselves and the world, they didn’t hear hope in anyone’s story, really. They could not see it, either. Cleopas’ disappointment and nostalgia is obvious when he tells the “stranger” his side of the story…with a lot of impatience, it seems.

It’s not until they hear this word:

Fools!

That they wake up.

At least, in English, it’s fools.
Perhaps a better translation would be weak.[2]

The two of them wake up a bit when they realize that they are weak.

Not weak because they were sad or frustrated or angry. This is not weakness. They were weak because they had sold their hope and left behind their joy in exchange for nostalgia and misguided expectations.

And yet, then they make it to Emmaus, they invite the stranger into their home and offer great hospitality.

This is when I think the change happened.

Cleopas and his companion could have laughed in the face of the stranger, paid no attention to him, left him alone, and then gone home to try to forget the whole thing.

But they didn’t.
They walked forward with the stranger and not only that–they opened up their home and shared a meal with him.
The stranger shocked them, though, when he sat at the head of the table and took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.

Flashback!

Jesus of Nazareth…he’s back!
Or was he?

Just after their eyes were opened, Jesus was gone again.

Here’s what I like about this story—it is not your typical resurrection appearance, at least how we are conditioned to view resurrection. Often we become so separated from resurrection stories because we feel that they have to be supernatural like something out of comic book or a sci-fi movie.

jesuspeepsSorry–I just cannot resist the “risen Jesus” with peeps pic to illustrate the point.

We feel that we have to have some incredible religious or spiritual experience to “see” Jesus or G-d, and so when we don’t, we stop believing in resurrection.

And then it’s really tempting to journey through life like a robot and never see meaning or hope; to ignore or miss beauty all around us; to keep walking forward when your feet hurt and your head is full of fear and anxiety and you just don’t see anyone walking with you at all.

But here’s the thing—we don’t know who these two disciples were, and I think that’s on purpose.

They could be anyone, of any gender, of any sexual orientation, of any cultural background, of any social level or walk of life.

Jesus or G-d or the Spirit or however you refer to the Divine Presence—this Divine does not appear to people in the same way.
Regardless of what we try to formulate in our doctrines and theologies, the thing is—everyone has a different experience with faith.

The merciful, hopeful thing in this story, at least for me, is that G-d seems to be whatever and wherever people need G-d to be.

Sure, we can try to define G-d and how G-d appears, but come on…

A person suffering from deep depression finds Jesus in a friend who has coffee with him and listens to his story.

Another sees G-d in a child who smiles and laughs with someone who is very sad, and then that sad person breaks down and starts laughing, too.

Somebody else sees Jesus when the rent is due and there’s no money and then someone just decides to help with no strings attached.

The Spirit is seen and heard when a fifteen-year-old stands up against bullies who constantly abuse her gay classmate.

The Creator is present in the decisions of people to choose justice over money, love over convenience, and community over isolation.

You see, walking forward and believing in resurrection does not mean that everything is great and Jesus wipes away all your suffering and problems.

Walking forward is recognizing that suffering is real.

Resurrection is life after death, so…new life rises from the ashes.

When we suffer, that’s not the end of the journey.
When we don’t know where our destination is, we shouldn’t go back.
We should walk forward, and if someone needs help walking, we should walk with her.

Either way, we won’t walk alone.
We’re meant to see that the Divine Presence appears in many ways to many people.

How will your eyes open to that this week?
With whom will you walk?
To whom will you show hospitality?

Journey on.

 

[1] Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary.

[2] Barnes New Testament Notes.

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