The long walk
By Charles Qualls
What a long walk that must have been. Oh, measured conventionally the Emmaus Road journey in Luke 24:13-35 was probably only seven miles. I’d far rather drive it than walk the distance. But it’d be like walking from Franklin to Sedley. You could do it, and they did occasionally because there was little choice.
Here’s the problem. When your heart is that heavy, the slightest task is overwhelming. Unless you are numb, grief can feel an awful lot like fear or even pain. It can also feel like anxiety and overwhelm. I think these two walking the Emmaus Road must have had feet that felt weighted down. Every step was at best difficult, and at worst a distracted exercise in frustration.
Congregations here and there, actually all over the world, studied this passage on Sunday if they follow the Lectionary. The story is rich and compelling. It is also couched in some familiar dynamics you and I have lived.
You can be in someone’s presence for a while and not pay a whole lot of attention to them. We should have tender hearts when it comes to the moment they are joined by a third traveler. We readers who have heard this story before want to step out in front of the pair. We want to point to the third and say, “Wake up! That’s Jesus walking with you. Don’t you see him?”
No. No they didn’t. Not really. Add in v16 where it mentions that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” and this thing doesn’t even seem fair. They were recounting the events of the week. The day of Jesus’ death and burial. Their Lord who had lived and breathed right there among them was now gone. Dead. What they knew was that the tomb had been opened and his body was missing.
We can tell how oblivious they are to this stranger’s identity. To the one who has joined them on the road, they throw some obvious shade his way by asking, “Are you the only person who hasn’t heard what happened in Jerusalem?” Then, they recount the whole thing to him. They’ve got nothing but time as they shuffle along.
One of the very saddest verses in all of Scripture, in my opinion, happens here. You can hear the resignation. The crushing sadness. Verse 21 says, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” If you’ve even one time felt like everything you had believed was now gone — all your convictions were now irrelevant or false — that sounds like what has happened to these two.
Verse 25 shows Jesus being Jesus. Actually, we might be taken aback here. Because Jesus isn’t so pastoral with these two. He is not gentle at all, but instead almost confrontational.
25 “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
Still, nothing. They don’t recognize him. I doubt I would have either, since no one was expecting to see him there. That is, they don’t recognize him until he sits down with them at home. Blesses the bread and breaks it. Instantly, their eyes are opened and they understand whom they have been journeying with.
We’ve been there. It’s not all grief and heartache that causes this. What have I come to believe about what God will do, or what God won’t do, which can keep me from seeing what God is doing? What do I believe about who God is, or about who God would or wouldn’t love, which keeps me from seeing God at work in our world?
Jesus journeys with you. Jesus journeys with me, and sometimes I don’t have eyes that will see nor ears that will hear him. Not in a way that I recognize him at least. In these days of sadness and isolation, but also of hope and creativity, our challenge is to watch for Christ in our world. Occasionally, even to be the Christ in our world for someone. Are you paying attention?
THE REV. CHARLES QUALLS is pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.