Saturday, April 20, 2013

Would you recognize Jesus?

The Road to Emmaus Luke 24: 13:35

Cleopas and another unidentified disciple of Jesus were walking on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus when Jesus appeared among them. The NRSV says that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” I like what it says in the Spanish Bible: “They seemed to have their eyes blindfolded.” What kept their eyes from recognizing this extremely popular and well-known personality with whom they had spent a lot of time? What made it seem that they were blindfolded?

On the one hand, I think they were blinded by their grief. Grief does strange things to a person. The text says they were “looking sad,” even in spite of the fact that they had already received the joyous news from reliable witnesses that Jesus had risen from the dead. Perhaps they were also blinded by unbelief.

On the other hand, they were blinded by unfulfilled expectations. The text quotes them as saying, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Their expectations of what the Messiah was to be were dashed with the death of Jesus. Like many others, their expectation was for a Messiah to restore the earthly grandeur of the Israelites under king David. Jesus’ death meant the end of that expectation. They would have to wait for some other person and some other time to fulfill their expectations.

As a child, I could never understand how these two men could not recognize Jesus. I suspect that most of us wonder the same thing. Nevertheless, the scripture gives ample evidence that blindness is a common malady. It calls this blindness “eyes that see but do not perceive,” or that people have “shut their eyes” (blindfolded?) (Matt. 13:13,15). It seems that there is a contrast made in scripture between the eyes that can only see what is in front of one’s face and eyes that can see beyond that reality. Eyes that perceive.

As an adult, I wonder how many of us would recognize Jesus if he appeared among us on our walk through life. We are probably not blinded by grief, but we are more than likely blinded by our expectations of what we think Jesus is, or how we think he would act. Our expectations are influenced by more than 2,000 years of theological baggage and interpretations passed on to us. Our expectations are influenced by our particular cultural understandings and interpretations of what is right or wrong. Our expectations are influenced by our own ego wants and needs.

I am particularly speaking about the hard sayings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Most Christians, either as individuals or collectively through denominational interpretations, have found all sorts of ways to domesticate these sayings and render them harmless. (for a look at how cultures have treated the Beatitudes, part of the Sermon on the Mount, see my book Meditations on the Beatitudes). By not taking these sayings seriously, we would more than likely not recognize Jesus.

In spite of my assertion that most of us would not recognize Jesus if he appeared among us, there is hope. The hope comes by developing “eyes that perceive;” eyes that can see a reality beyond what is in front of one’s face. One develops these eyes through the spiritual disciplines; centering prayer, working with one’s dreams, lectio divina, active imagination, sacred breathing, just to mention a few.

Would you recognize Jesus if he walked beside you on your daily path? Don’t be so quick to answer “yes.” Like the two men on the road to Emmaus, we may have more blindfolds covering our eyes than we think. 


  1. In addition to the years of religious and cultural baggage handed down to us through the generations, we also have, on the positive side, years of revelation from the living Word that we gained from them. I believe God keeps some revelation from us until we get to the place where we are ready for it. Jesus deliberately taught in parables so that only those ready would "get it". If he had revealed all before readiness, one rejection of the truth might have turned into a life-time of rejection of it. So awesome how God patiently waits for us and moves on our circumstances and our consciences to bring us to that place!

    Totally enjoy your blog and it's stimulating questions.

  2. I like your idea of "progressive revelation." I think it is true. Yet a lot of God's revelation is pretty straight forward, easy enough for a fourth grader to understand. The ten commandments, for example. Yet 2,000 years of church history sees most of the church endorsing and participating in state killing. Those 2,000 years have produced a "just war" theory to rationalize killing, but if you read that theory carefully, there has not been a single war since it was developed that meets all the criteria for a "just war." We could look at other areas as well; care for the aliens and strangers among us, giving to the poor and working for social justice.

    Anyway, thanks for your support and responses.