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.
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.
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
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
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!