The disciples on the road to Emmaus do not recognise Jesus. But, as always, Jesus does not seem to be at a loss – I doubt he was surprised in the least. He knew who he was dealing with, knew what they needed. He therefore draws them out to begin with. He asks them what they had been talking about: ‘What are all these things that you are discussing as you walk along? They stopped, their faces downcast’ (Luke. 24:17). How poignant this is for me. The One who knows all things, delicately asks these two dull-eyed, dreary men to tell him what they had been discussing. Surely, Jesus knows that in asking that question, he is asking not only for an account of recent events; he is also saying covertly, Tell me what is making you so downcast. He is giving them another opportunity to hash everything through. But this time, it will be different. Cleopas and the other disciple do tell Jesus all about their experience. But they are not merely talking to each other now, pooling their bewilderment and sorrow. They are talking to the Risen Lord.
This, perhaps, is the first prayer to the Risen Jesus that any of the disciples had made. The two here don’t know it at the time, but they are praying, telling Jesus all about it, placing their hurts and disappointments before him – and not, incidentally, without a little dig: “Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.”
Yes, haven’t there been such times in my life? Haven’t I often said something similar to the Lord – and I do not even have the excuse of not recognising him. Haven’t I said something like, “What are you about, Lord? You don’t seem to see what is going on!” I can just hear the incredulity in Cleopas’s voice, the tones of bitterness:
You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ He asked, ‘What things?’ They answered, ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth, who showed himself a prophet powerful in actions and speech before God and the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.
There it is, the monumental wrongheadedness: ‘Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.’ Whatever the disciples had managed to learn from Jesus during his earthly life, all the gospels bring out that there was one thing they never seemed to grasp: that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, and his power would never be exercised after the manner of earthly rulers and politicians. On the contrary, his kingdom was within, and the revolution he would bring about would change us as individuals on the level of our hearts. These interior changes would draw us into a community of believers, united by faith and hope in Jesus, and in love of him. In this community each person would strive to be the servant of the others. Power games or displays of domination would have no place whatever in his kingdom.
Why didn’t they get that? The same reason I don’t get it, I suppose. Oh, I might not be so silly as to think that Jesus will snap his heavenly fingers and change world-scale politics. But, what about the petty politics I have experienced in my own little world? Haven’t I fumed about them? Don’t I find myself secretly hoping that Jesus will ‘fix’ all that? And when he doesn’t, don’t I struggle with dismay and anger? We are slow learners.