The following are a couple of entries from my electronic journal. This meditation and reflection was inspired by the lectionary readings during Easter Week One and the Book of Common Prayer
15APRIL2020 – the reflection begins
I’m using the texts from the RCL for Easter Week One as prompts for my reflections and Lectio Divina exercises. Today the following texts were offered for reflection:
Psalm 105:1-8; Acts 3:1-10; Luke 24:13-25
I began with the Psalm reading and noticed at once a litany of declarative statements about God and imperative commands as responses to those declarations. “Rejoice in the LORD; Let the whole world know; Give thanks! Sing to Him; Tell everyone; Remember His wonders; Worship the LORD! Continually seek Him; Search for Him; He is faithful! Exult in His name!” The imperative responses declare who God is. As a person reciprocally responds to the declarations, I believe, the character of God and the declarations of who He is will be manifest visibly in the person who responds with reciprocity to the faith statements.
This is important. How a person acts may not always reveal what they think, know, or declare as a belief statement. This may be especially true in times of distress and in times of uncertainty and unknowing.
A walk to Emmaus…
Our gospel text today invites us on a walk with a couple of Jesus’s disciples, Cleopas and another unnamed disciple, possibly the wife of Cleopas, as they make their way to the town of Emmaus shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus. I was not far into the text when I was arrested by the Holy Spirit, after reading the following words: “Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing him” (Luke 24:15-16 NLT).
…But God kept them from recognizing him.
Yeah. About that.
It is fairly often that I engage in the practice of “imaginative reading,” especially when I read from the gospel narratives. This style of reading invites the reader to put himself or herself into the scene. I was “in the scene” today when I was reading and began to wonder about the disciples walking with Jesus, even though they did not recognize him. I wondered what they might be thinking. I think they were distressed, likely beyond anything I could even imagine. Cleopas may have witnessed the torturous beating and the murder of Jesus. We can assume Cleopas likely got, at the very least, a second-hand account of Jesus crucified as his wife was named (Mary) as being present at the crucifixion (John 19:25).
So, I believe it is safe to assume they were devoted followers, disciples, of Jesus. Surely, they believed he was the Messiah. In that hope, hinged the hope of Israel. In that hope, hinged the belief of God’s fulfillment of his Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. In that hope, hinged liberation and deliverance from Rome. In that hope, hinged the rise of their people and nation Israel. Gone. With the swing of hammer to nail, and the utterance of “it is finished…” for them, and what they knew in the moment, it was, indeed, finished. All hope, gone.
The text reads; “Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them.” Again, this would be glorious, considering their mental and emotional states. Hope gone, but then Jesus himself suddenly joins them on the walk. This would be fabulous! Everything we mentioned earlier, all the hope that had been destroyed, now renewed. Except for one little hiccup. “But God kept them from recognizing him.” Aaaannnd, we are right back at destroyed hope.
Why would God do this?
There is much to say on this, both in what I believe is happening and my personal identification with why I believe it happens. My thoughts could really go several directions to be fully developed, but for the sake of this writing, I’m going to streamline my point. I’ll do this first by referencing one of my least favorite theologians, who writes the following:
The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols. The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labours under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has thus conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth. –John Calvin
Ok. Let me back up a bit and get a running start to climb this mountain.
In our temporal, broken, and finite selves, we are incapable of knowing or comprehending God in all of God’s fullness of being. By God’s grace, God reveals glimpses of God to each of us that might amount to a metaphorical “wireframe” understanding of God.
But stuffed with presumptuous rashness, we are not satisfied with that limited knowledge and we dare to imagine a god suited to our own capacity. In other words, we put flesh and sinew on the wireframe. We continue to embellish that model until it is complete, lacking no thing. And our god is complete.
As much as John Calvin makes this an exercise in evil. I am not convinced that is true. First, God made humanity to be creative as God is. God also imbued humanity to be god-like (see Genesis 1:26; Psalm 8). This is to have vision, imagination, the ability to see ideas through from inception, to creation, and ultimately to realization and reality. So, we take a wireframe representation and understanding of God and we complete it. This is in keeping with our character. Also, to reiterate, I do not think this is a character flaw. It can become flawed when we trust our created god more than our Creator God. This is the place that the intersection of Me Street crosses Emmaus Boulevard.
17APRIL2020 – continuing the reflection
God loves us. As his developing, god-like, children, He knows our propensity for creativity. He knows our tendency to make gods of our own design. I think it is not unlike the creative play of a child, who imagines things in their play…even imaginary friends. It’s natural, and I believe, a normal part of early childhood development. Now, having made my belief statement, I will qualify. As natural as this development can be, it can also deteriorate into something unhealthy. This is one of the reasons that God issues stark warnings to humanity about creating harmless fake gods and turning them into Gods that take the place of CREATOR GOD. Before I get too far into the weeds, I’ll jump back on course to describe the relevance to our situation here on Emmaus Blvd.
As I alluded to earlier, Cleopas and wife(?) are their way to Emmaus. The things they thought about Jesus were likely in agreement with what many people grew up thinking about and hoping for in their Messiah. They likely anticipated a political and military leader, a king-like figure reminiscent of the great first kings like Saul and David. They leaned into the promises of the prophets, who declared that the glory of Israel would be restored. With the restoration of the kingdom-nation of Israel would become liberation from oppressor nations. Their hope in this leader would also see them bring back glory to Israel, stature, renown, wealth, power, and respect. These hopes would translate into character attributes and expectations foisted upon the individual they believed was most likely to bring these ambitions to fruition. Jesus was the “chosen one.”
On him was laid the entire burden of Israel’s hope. This was a false identity. It is even possible that it was a misrepresentation of what the prophets had foretold. Their hoped-for identity of the Messiah was not what God had intended. This is the mind and heart of Cleopas and wife as they set out for Emmaus. Then, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing him.
Because God loves his created children and because He knows children need guidance and correction, God guides and corrects. In this case, God kept them from recognizing Jesus. The image that Cleopas and his wife had for Jesus was wrong. Was he Messiah? Yes! Emphatically, Yes! However, he was not the Messiah that Cleopas and the other disciples had created in their imagination.
I believe, if Cleopas and wife had recognized Jesus immediately, they would have probably retained the image they had created for Jesus. By keeping them from recognizing Jesus, Cleopas and his wife were in an attitude to listen and to learn, which they did! “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (See Luke 24:32)
The parallels to our own spiritual journeys are very similar to Cleopas and his wife.
As God incrementally reveals who God is to us, we embellish that revelation with our own experiences, with our own understanding and interpretations of the Scriptures, as well as with interpretations of others and their understanding of God. We get a “wireframe” understanding of who God is and we finish the model. This process is not unlike what we witness in the lives of the disciples, and in this story, how Cleopas and wife have understood who Jesus was. God, with love and compassion, breaks that model, sometimes shattering it, as was the case with the idol of Dagon (1 Samuel 5:2-4).
This process is painful. It can be so painful and traumatic that some believers abandon God. They are incapable of letting go of the image they have created and ultimately end up serving a false god…an imaginary friend. For those who endure the painful process of having a false image of God crushed and corrected, a deeper and more liberating revelation and relationship with God can be the result. We see this is true with Cleopas, his wife, and other disciples as the Scriptures reveal.
I think, for me, the takeaway is this; I should hold my interpretations of God loosely. I should walk with Jesus and learn from Jesus in an attitude of humility. I should allow my beliefs and knowledge of God to be tested in the crucibles of life and the consuming fire of God’s grace-filled love. I have learned; what is true will remain true through the crucible of life and will remain true through the tests of God’s fire. What is not true needs crushed. What is unrevealed needs to be known. I will not fear when I don’t recognize Jesus but will trust God’s work in the unknowing.