Formations 04.11.2021: Who We’re Looking For

Luke 24:13-27

It used to bother me that, so many times in the Gospels’ Easter stories, Jesus’ followers don’t recognize him after the resurrection. To be honest, I suppose that still bothers me. I mean, this is Jesus we’re talking about: the man they had followed for years, they man they had eaten with, traveled with, listened to, learned from, and strived—though rarely successfully—to imitate. And they didn’t even recognize his face?

The Gospels don’t present this obliviousness as because Jesus exuded any kind of post-resurrection glory. It’s not that they don’t recognize him because he looks like an angel bathed in beams of light. Mary mistook him for the gardener, for heaven’s sake!

In today’s lesson, the disciples on the road to Emmaus thought he was just another traveler along the road. Together, they discuss current events, and Jesus even leads them in an impromptu Bible study on “the things about himself in all the scriptures” (v. 27).

This failure to recognize Jesus is frustrating for me as a reader. I want to reach into the Bible and grab these disciples by the shoulder and yell, “Don’t you know who you’re talking to?”

New Testament scholar James D. G. Dunn made an insightful observation about all of this many years ago. He looked at all of the post-resurrection appearances in the New Testament and concluded that the more people are present, the more likely Jesus will be recognized—and the fuller the description we are given of the encounter.

For example, Jesus appeared to Simon Peter that first Easter morning (Luke 24:34; see 2 Cor 15:5). But what happened? Where did this take place? What did either of them say? We simply don’t know.

At the same time, Jesus also appeared on various occasions to all the disciples gathered together, and we have several Gospel stories describing how those encounters went in some detail: in the upper room, by the seashore, on a mountain in Galilee.

When we do have a story about the risen Christ appearing to only one or two disciples, there is almost always an initial unawareness that gives way to recognition. Mary thought she was talking to the gardener. Then Jesus speaks her name, and she knows that it’s him. The Emmaus disciples think they’ve joined up with just a fellow traveler, but they realize it was Jesus all along when he breaks and blesses the bread. (We’ll read that part of the story next week.)

Maybe the point is that we really do need a church to help us to see Jesus clearly. It can’t be “just me and Jesus.” If we only go to the garden alone, we may miss out on something wonderful.

And maybe the point is that we tend to see what we’re looking for. If you can’t imagine the possibility of a risen Lord, you’re not likely to find him even if he’s standing right in front of you.

On this second Sunday of Easter, what are you looking for? Or better: Who are you looking for? Are your eyes wide open to the possibility that the risen Christ might yet show up amid whatever confusion, bewilderment, pain, or grief you happen to bear?

And how can your fellow believers keep your eyes open to that amazing possibility?

Discussion

  • What had the Emmaus disciples expected from Jesus? How did they respond when those expectations were not met?
  • Why does Jesus take the time to interpret Scripture to them?
  • How does one’s mental disposition affect one’s ability to perceive the things of the spirit?
  • How can the Christian community heighten our spiritual awareness?
  • How might the story of Emmaus help us to see and hear what truly matters?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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