"Cynical Certainty on the Road to Emmaus" – Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
I love the Jesus we meet on the road to Emmaus, because he seems kind of strange, mysterious, for sure, and – I think – a little bit punchy after three days in the grave. I figure he must be as surprised as you and me to realize these two guys on the road don’t recognize him right away – even after walking and talking with him for quite a while. But I like that he’s patient and maybe even a little bit playful about that.
Like when Cleopas seems to get an attitude about the fact that this supposed “stranger” doesn’t know what’s been going on and he asks Jesus, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn’t know about the things that have taken place there in these days?”
See, the word for “stranger” carries a lot of weight, depending on how you translate it. It could also mean something like “foreigner,” or “alien,” or “stranger”-with-a-kick – as in, outsider, outcast, interloper – someone who’s not in the know; or part of the in-crowd; or someone who’s not smart enough or faithful enough or connected enough to understand the significance of what has happened.
Remember, this is just days after the crucifixion, which anyone who was anyone, likely would have been talking about. “Are you the only fool in town who doesn’t know what in the world has been going on around here?” “You must be some kind of loser – or really out of the loop – not to know what kind of things have taken place in these days.”
And that’s why I imagine Jesus gets a little punchy as he goes; that he takes advantage of what they aren’t able to see or recognize at first glance. “Oh… what things?,” he asks. “Tell me what you know, Mr. Smarty Pants.” And I like to think my savior has a sense of humor – I’m kind of banking on it, actually.
But, I think there’s more to it than Jesus just being funny and playing games.
For me, this story of the walk to Emmaus is a microcosm of our faith journey as individuals and as people of God. And, I’ve had a handful of conversations lately about looking for, and finding, and recognizing God in the world around us – and about how hard that can be a lot of the time. And what I find is that many of us – myself included – are inclined to the same kind of cynical certainty that Cleopas – that sad sack on the road offers up. Jesus calls him “foolish and slow of heart to believe,” remember.
He’s the one, when confronted with the resurrected Christ – in the flesh – doesn’t recognize him, neglects to connect the dots between what he’s been taught and told his whole life, and who – again, so cynically certain about it – recounts for Jesus all the reasons why God’s Easter Good news wasn’t true, or was at least up against it as far as he could tell. (“our chief priests handed him over… he was crucified… it’s been three days… some women said they didn’t see him… some men confirmed it… he’s dead and gone and is nowhere to be found”… and so on.)
And I don’t blame him, because I’m a lot like Cleopas more often than I’d like to admit. Standing still, I mean. Looking and feeling and being sad so much of the time … and skeptical and cynical about the state of things and the way of the world around us.
First of all, if Jesus approached me on the road – most days – I’m afraid I wouldn’t even stop to chat, let alone invite him over for dinner. Because I’m too busy… because I have more important places to be… because he won’t look like I expect him to look, I’m guessing.
But assuming I was having a good day and did at least stop for a chat, I’m afraid I’d sound a lot like Cleopas and his friend. I’m afraid my first inclination would be to rain on his resurrection parade, just like they did. “Are you the only stranger in town… are you the only fool around… who doesn’t know what the hell has been going on around here?” And I’d be happy to cite some examples that would be no surprise to Jesus:
Our planet is getting warmer by the day and it scares the heck of me to see it.
The money we spend on weapons for war could feed and educate and provide healthcare for as many people as those weapons might otherwise destroy. And we have North Korea – and others – scaring us into the choices we make.
Something like 27 people have been murdered just in Indianapolis, already this year.
Kids in Chicago are dying from gunshots and kids like Abby Rejer and Brody Stephens, in New Palestine, are dying by surprise or from sickness and disease.
We lost another pillar of faith very close to home, in Bob Erwin, this week.
And the list goes on, of course.
So it’s a short walk for me, from the empty tomb of Easter’s joy to the real world of Emmaus, where all of that Good News turns into something hard to swallow, and even harder to celebrate, to be honest. Like I said, just like Cleopas, I’d probably look Jesus in the eye and ask, “Are you the only one around here who doesn’t know about the things that have taken place here in these days?”
But the beautiful thing about Jesus on the road with Cleopas and his friend – and the beautiful thing about Jesus on the road with the likes of you and me – is that he is no stranger to any of it. He just keeps showing up – walking… and listening… and patiently waiting for us to do the same…walking and listening and paying attention, I mean, until we see what has been and continues to be revealed in our midst, in spite of whatever cynical certainty and sadness we bring to the table.
See, I think Jesus shows up in surprising ways and through the love and lives of surprising people a lot of the time, if we would just open our eyes to recognize him there.
I think Jesus shows up in the nurses and doctors at Riley Hospital, for sure. I think Jesus shows up in teachers and in administrators who care for students in ways far beyond what test scores or graduation rates can reveal. I think Jesus shows up in and through individuals and communities of faith, like ours, who love one another, or try to; and who strive to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly – or try to – in the face of so many temptations to do otherwise. And I think Jesus shows up in the mirror, if we will open our hearts and our minds and our lives to that possibility.
Because what happens on the Road to Emmaus, really, is that Jesus opens the eyes of these two to see what they already knew. Through some patient conversation and a little bit of bread-breaking, they are reminded and inspired to hit the road again and get about the business of telling their people what they had wanted to believe all along:
That God is bigger than death. That hope is better than despair. That light shines in the darkness. That love always gets the last word. And that we have hard, holy work to do in order to reveal that and to make it real for the world around us, in Jesus’ name.