Sunday, May 8, 2011
EY Scripting: Finding Jesus On The Road
Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road...
This week's lectionary Gospel passage is Luke 24:13-35, perhaps the supreme episode in Luke's Gospel (narrowly edging the Good Samaritan & Prodigal Son parables). Here's the soundbite version with some commentary to follow:
On Resurrection Sunday: 2 disciples (one named Cleopas...and perhaps his wife, imagines N.T. Wright in his work Challenge of Jesus)traveling on foot to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
Jesus joins them on the road but they don't recognize him!
Jesus: "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?"
Cleopas (distraught & cyncical): "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"
Jesus: "What things?"
Cleopas & his wife: "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."
Jesus: "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not inevitable that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"
Jesus' sermon-on-the-go reanimates the Hebrew Bible, telling the story of the long-awaited Messiah through the lens of the prophetic script.
Cleopas & his wife (as they get closer to Emmaus): "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over."
Jesus, the Guest, joins them for a meal and becomes the Host, breaking the bread and praying (just like he did at the Last Supper and miraculous multiplication of the bread)
They finally recognize Jesus...and then he vanishes from their sight
Cleopas & his wife (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?"
1. This episode swims in the ocean of the wider context of the expectation of the 1st century Palestinian Jewish peasantry (the bottom 95% of society) for a Conqueror-Messiah to exorcise the occupiers: Caesar's military-industrial-complex with his loyal governors and his elite Jewish sell-out tribute collectors (those who operated the Temple). Those of us who read this from suburbia are at a huge disadvantage. To get into the proper mindset, it might be helpful for those of us who read from the 21st century Western Civilization to transform ourselves into present-day Joe-Six-Pack Iraqi, Afghani or Pakistani. What if the world's Superpower invaded your country in the name of "peace," taking over your government, raw materials and financial investments for the interest of the Superpower? Anyone who was bold enough to be prophetic, to second-guess this political-social-economic injustice (in word or deed) would be condemned to death, a gruesome public crucifixion that you'd never forget. You would live in a constant cloud of fear and intimidation. You would vigilantly hold on to hope that the God of the universe would send Someone to finally bring real justice and liberation...
2. The two disciples traveled away from Jerusalem at the end of an absolutely disastrous Passover weekend that started with so much expectation that the campaign of Jesus of Nazareth would culminate in a new Reign (Greek basilea usually translated "kingdom") that subverted Caesar's troops, crosses, land seizures and tax burdens and, with it, the static religion of the Temple that blessed the whole "peace" project ("Pax Romana"). They had hoped he would redeem Israel from Caesar's deathly vice-grip. Instead, Caesar's Palestinian cadres, through a backroom deal and a mob of deputized citizens, apprehended Jesus, gave him a mock trial, tortured him and then killed the convicted "rebel" in front of the hordes of Passover pilgrims. The sign over his head on the cross ("King of the Jews") said it all: this is what happens when a people's movement offers an alternative to Caesar's Reign. Empire always gets rid of its most compelling threats (see MLK & Gandhi).
3. On the road to Emmaus, the still unrecognized Jesus gave Cleopas and his wife a motivational speech that narrated this Jesus of Nazareth as a Prophetic Nonviolent Resister Messiah, a Prince of Peace, that followed the storyline of the original prophets of the Hebrew Bible: Samuel, Nathan, Amos, Jeremiah, etc. The climax of Jesus' sermon drives home the point: it was inevitable (Greek dei usually translated "necessary") that the Messiah would be killed by those powermongering political and religious leaders who will always do whatever it takes to stay in power. Jesus' roadtrip sermon proposed that the Redeemer God was continuing the quest to redeem Israel...and the rest of the world with her. But the campaign ("ministry"), platform ("teaching") and unjust execution of Jesus revealed that the instruments of redemption would not, in fact, be spears and shields and soldiers sanctified by sacrifices and separation from sinners and salvific forgiveness administered by Temple elites. God was on the move, building peaceful coalitions dedicated to meal-sharing, inclusivity and lifestyles committed to compassion (not competition) and self-donating love (not self-interested portfolios) with Jesus as the epicenter of it all.
4. The resurrection of Jesus, first scandalously unveiled to marginalized women(!), was God's vindicating stamp on Jesus' campaign and breathes hope into a world where he is still present and active, teaching his platform to all those who are pure in heart and healing us of our earthly enslavements, from addictions to anxieties to a variety of adverse self-protecting mechanisms. The messianic pattern brings light out of darkness, new life out of death, burning hearts out of disheartening dialogues, intimate meals out of strange encounters. The spirit of Christ is alive, nugding us out of despair into hope-filled adventures.
5. Back then, just like now, Christian disciples had the hardest time recognizing Jesus on the road. They were so sure what Jesus stood for and, as a result, what Christian discipleship "looked like." In our quest to get back home to Emmaus after a day of unmet expectations, disorientation and distraction, we seldom find the time and space to take inventory of where Jesus both entices us and prods us towards joining him in the redemption of the world. This Divine Discernment takes intentionality and community. Transparent sharing as we journey together. An inspirational rooting of our tangible lives within the prophetic strand of the biblical narrative. Generous hospitality. Intimate meal-sharing. And a robust penchant to uplift others when we see this Redeeming God at work in their lives.
When's the last Time you met Jesus on the road...and did not realize it until later?
From Filipino artist Emmanuel Garibay on his piece Emmaus (see above):
Except for one person, everyone is around the table drinking and laughing.
I don't know if you are familiar with the last chapter of Luke...
So the figure at the center is a woman - she could be mistaken for a man because she has short hair- she is drinking with them and kind of telling a Joke and everybody is laughing around her.
But the point is that the Joke is that people are laughing because they thought all along that Jesus was a man, and that Jesus is a Caucasian looking guy, you know...
all these conventional concepts about Jesus.
I have a different image of Jesus which is that of a woman, a very ordinary looking Filipino woman, who drinks with them and has stories to tell. The idea of laughing is very common among Filipinos-to laugh at their mistakes. It's all part of understanding the culture and it's also part of contextualizing the concept of faith within the culture.