My wife and I have done herding dog demonstrations with our Border Collies for many years. On those occasions countless people have come up to us, told us that they had some sort of a dog who might have herding instincts, and they would love to learn how to train and handle them. My consistent response has been, “It’s a very long learning curve.”
The Gospel for this Sunday says that something similar is true of becoming a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. If you read the Gospel for this coming Sunday, the Third of Easter, which is Luke 24.13-35, in the New Revised Version, you will come upon the word “road” in verses 32 and 35. It is three days since Jesus had been executed, and Cleopas and another disciple were radically changed. But, it didn’t happen all at once. There was a process involved. Their slow hearts had to be warmed and re-ignited as they met with, had been taught by, and dined with Jesus, “on the road.”
But the Greek word translated “road,” is often translated as “way.” It is the word Luke goes on to use in his Book of Acts, a full six times, for the Christ-movement (9.2; 19.9,23; 22.4; 24,14, 22.) It is capitalized as “the Way” there in the NRSV. And Luke uses this Greek word symbolically for the Christ-movement, and the path into it, in the story of the instruction and baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in chapter six of Acts.
Cleopas – alongside his un-named companion, and the disciple, Thomas, could be called patron saints of the hard-to-convince. They are indeed “on the way.” They know Jesus was a miracle man and a prophet, who had become too dangerous for the establishment, and therefore snuffed out in a hideous way. They have heard the reports that Jesus may be alive from the hearsay reports of women and other disciples. But they are also foolish and slow-hearted. In other words, they are lacking in both the brains and heart departments. They are both intellectually and emotionally immature.
The long learning curve of becoming a genuine member of the Christ movement is condensed by Luke into one seven-mile walk along “the Way.” Before they can move from the cold of confusion to the heat of inspiration, they must have some profound experiences.
All along, Jesus is walking the road alongside them. Only they don’t know it. He builds from the base of ancient Scripture and schools them in a certain “Way” of interpreting the Bible’s stories and moral teachings. At the center of this interpretation is the Truth that God changes the world by walking the Way of suffering for others. In fact, all of this wasn’t just an odd choice by God, but it was “necessary.” This is a hard lesson, and so this Jesus must “discuss,” “open,” and “explain.” The learning curve is a long one. Still they are blind, until this teacher also gives of himself in the breaking of the bread. Then their frozen hearts burn. Then they recognize the One who has been walking with them the whole time. And then become vital part of the community of the Gospel. They become genuine, evangelizing, followers of the Way.
These days of pandemic are days of crisis. And in times like these people are attracted to the binary. They want black and white, easy answers. Are you with the science-based, liberal folk who say we must keep the doors shut to bend the curve? Or are you with the flag waving, red hat wearing conservatives who demand that we free everybody to go back to work?
There are a lot of binaries or dualities in the Bible. Light and dark, sin and righteousness, life and death. But there is also talk of not trying to separate the weeds from the wheat. There is also talk of patience and waiting to let God do the sorting. There is also recognition of our life in the grey, “in-between,” neither hot nor cold spaces of human life.
And there is this story of the Way. This faith business isn’t learned all at once. It’s a walk, and always a very long one. We are always saints but also sinners. We all are slow of heart and moving along a long learning curve.
The great good news is that Jesus is right beside us all the way, even when we are dull witted and hard hearted. If we have ears to hear, Jesus will discuss, open and explain the right way to understand that huge book, the Bible. Sunday school teachers, pastors, and professors, are more than ready to help us. Of course, we need to keep the suffering Messiah in the center of things so that we can sort out the wheat from the chaff of what these imperfect preachers and teachers tell us. But they are there, and Jesus can use them.
And, most important of all, we need to let Jesus break bread with us. Here, perhaps suddenly, or perhaps slowly, we will remember that we are eating with sinners and tax collectors, the poor, the crippled, the lame, and with the multitudes from the Galilean hillside. Our hearts will burn with the Truth that this Jesus loves with a universal—all embracing love.
This eating is done in all our table times. Jesus is with us there. And it is done most powerfully in the Eucharist. Jesus is there to tell us he is there at all our table times, and that we should break the habit of eating alone or eating while ignoring the people at the table or serving. Jesus is present in the Eucharist to open our eyes to his presence in all our table guests and table times.
Oh, how we ache for that table time. It will come. But even this time of pandemic and distancing from one another is a time Jesus is with us all along. It is another station on the Way.
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