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Eastertide Reflection

Opening the Scriptures of Our Lives

May 2, 2011

Here, where intelligence and body coincide, we win through to the awareness and possession of what we are – something not so much for us to know as to realize.

(Paul Cash, on Louis Lavelle, The Dilemma of Narcissus, p. 14)

In Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime Patricia Hample observes that the ancient and great enterprise of the imagination known as religion is magnetized by travel.  “Even defined by it,” she writes,

Islam marks its start from migration — the original great march from Medina to Mecca.  This hajj, repeated as a form of religious confirmation every year, is one of the five pillars of Islam.  Not to mention the forty years of desert wandering that established Judaism, and the homeless meandering of Jesus: “Foxes have their holes and the birds or the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”  Pilgrimage, which is a form of tourism, reaffirms humanity’s most ancient metaphor—that life is a journey.  We must keep moving, it seems.  The imagination is not a domestic animal.  It roams . . .  (40)

We might think that Easter puts an end to all that, at least in our spiritual tradition.  With the dying and rising of Christ, is there any need to keep searching?  What happens on the road to Emmaus suggests a different outcome.  The disciples are still journeying.  The story is recounted for us in Luke 24:13- 35.

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.  As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.  (verses 13-16)

In the next verse Jesus asks them, “What is this conversation you are holding with each other as you walk?”  Downcast, they proceed to tell him all that has happened.  Then, in verses 28- 32, we have the following events:

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.  They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?”

     There are several points of interest in this short account.  The first, we have already mentioned: the journey theme.  The disciples are on the road—on the way, as it were.  They are walking and talking, going over recent events; trying to make sense of their lives and their current situation.  Jesus appears and joins them in conversation.  He apparently encourages them to speak, to consider the meaning of what has happened.  We note, also, that when they arrive at their destination the disciples strongly urge the “stranger” to remain with them; it is late and the day far gone.  How significant is this offer of hospitality?  Without it we would not have the “moment of recognition” which leads the disciples to realize who it is that has been journeying with them on the road. 

     We might remind ourselves here that hospitality was an inviolable duty in the cultures of the time.  Susan Neiman opens her book on Moral Clarity with a discussion of hospitality from the book of Genesis.  She recounts the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s familiar to all of us, but Neiman points out that the story is marvelously complex.  It isn’t about the sin of fornication; it’s about “the local demand to drag out and gang rape two strangers whom the good-hearted Lot had offered to shelter.”  The story is really about certain long-held convictions of these cultures: what hosts and guests owed each other formed the basis of traditional morality, and violations threatened social bonds at their core.  Lot has no doubts about his moral obligations in the situation; he does everything he can to assure the safety of his guests.  As it turns out, the guests are angels and can take care of themselves.  (You will remember that Abraham and Sarah also provided hospitality to three strangers who turned out to be angels.)  According to Neiman, “where kindness to strangers forms the framework of civilization, what the Sodomites do is a double outrage:” for they are blessed with abundance yet dread to share it.  They presumed to turn the moral teachings upside down by making hospitality (helping strangers) punishable by death. (1-2)

     We return to our story.  Strikingly, the disciples recognize Jesus as soon as he breaks the bread and gives it to them.  The guest now becomes the host.  And the stranger turns out to be he whose absence is so profoundly felt by the disciples.  Surely there is a message here about where we are meant to find the Lord.  Yet, as soon as the recognition occurs, Jesus disappears: “their eyes were opened and he disappeared from their sight.”  What kind of seeing is occurring here?  It is not merely about physical sight, since that is what evaporates as soon as it is attained.  Jesus tells the disciples on the road that what happened in Jerusalem had to happen.  They have to come to see that.  He wants to be with them—but in a way they do not yet understand.  What is “the real” in this story?   Is it about encountering Jesus as a physical presence?  Or is it about the act of recognition itself and the form of seeing that results from it?  When Jesus guides the disciples to what they are experiencing inwardly, does he thereby provide the key to understanding their new relationship?  Has he not been opening the scriptures to them all along?  There’s no mention of books in the text, no mention of reading or preaching.  Yet their hearts were burning within them as they spoke.  The truths of scripture are revealed to them in a living encounter:  Jesus dwells within them!

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Last updated: 11/25/10.