Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Emmaus Disciples

The Emmaus Disciples
Luke 24:13-35
            This is one of my favorite parts of the Easter narrative.  It has always held fascination for me.  I think, at least in part, it’s because of what’s left unsaid as much as what is said.  What has been left unsaid creates an interest in knowing more.
            Who were these two disciples?  They’re obviously not part of the twelve-man inner circle.  We may not be able to recite all twelve names from memory, but we know there is no Cleopas among them. 
            We assume the Last Supper was limited to Jesus and the twelve.  That’s the way DaVinci painted it; but were there more than these thirteen in attendance?  We don’t know, of course, but there is at least an outside possibility that the Emmaus disciples were there.
            One thing we do know:  not all of Jesus’ disciples came from Galilee.  These two lived in Emmaus, which was about six or seven miles from Jerusalem.  We know Jesus visited Jerusalem on other occasions before this last one.  We remember John talking about Jesus teaching in the temple on several occasions and being surrounded by crowds.  Some of those listening would have chosen to follow him, including, quite likely, the Emmaus disciples.
            Luke mentions one of them by name—Cleopas—but doesn’t name the other one.  It has always been assumed they were both male, but that’s not a good assumption.  They were sharing living quarters, not likely for two adult males in that culture.  It is more likely that this was a married couple, returning to their home after Passover and the Sabbath.  John (19:25) says that one of the women at the cross was “Mary, the wife of Clopas.”  Was this the same man? And was Mary his wife?  Quite possibly. 
            Why didn’t Luke mention her name as well as that of her husband?  We could argue that women in that society were not as important as men.  But more than any other gospel writer Luke is sympathetic to women.  He tells more stories about women than the other gospel writers, and paints them in a more positive light.  Of course, we don’t know, and anything we say is mere speculation. 
            Let’s proceed on the assumption that the two disciples were husband and wife.
            So…it’s late afternoon of the first Easter. Cleopas and Mary, two of Jesus’ disciples, are walking from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus.  If the distance is at least six miles, and they walk at a pace of twenty minutes or so a mile, the journey will take them at least two hours to get home. 
            Today, even going as slowly as thirty miles an hour, we could drive that distance in about ten minutes.  Even those of us who walk for exercise don’t walk for two hours at a time.  In our world that’s an incredible amount of walking.  Yet how else were they to get where they needed to go?  Walking was the most common method of traveling from one place to another. 
            We don’t often think about it, but when we read of Jesus going from place to place in Galilee with his disciples, that’s the way they traveled—and the distances between places would have been more than six miles.  If six miles of walking boggles the mind, remember that Jesus and his disciples also walked from Galilee to Jerusalem.  That distance is just under eighty miles.  You do the math.  The time would be measured in days, not hours—and remember, they would have had to eat and sleep along the way.
            All this makes the Emmaus journey more special.  A man and his wife, traveling home late in the afternoon, despondent because their leader has been executed, encounter a stranger, who, over the course of a couple of hours explains, using the Hebrew Scriptures, why the Messiah had to suffer and die.  When, at their home, Jesus reveals himself to them and disappears, they turn around and walk another two hours back to Jerusalem.  We can imagine this was a happier trip, and that they covered the distance in less time—all to tell the good news.
            To what lengths will we go to share our good news?

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Shades of Jiminy Cricket

Shades of Jiminy Cricket!
Hebrews 10:19-25
            Most of us know the story of Pinocchio, both the original tale and the version created by Walt Disney.  It’s a good story, made visible and more striking by the Disney storytellers and animators. 
            In the animated version we follow Pinocchio from his creation as a puppet by Geppetto, through his enlivening as a reward to his creator, through his misadventures, and finally to the realization that freedom does not mean license to do anything that comes to mind.
            In the Disney version, the character who tries to provide guidance to the willful boy is Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s conscience.  From his first appearance he tries to tell the puppet-become-boy how to live so as not to cause harm to himself, Geppetto, or anyone else.  Pinocchio will have none of it, but insists on his own way, paying increasingly more serious consequences for ignoring the advice of his conscience.
            Each time Pinocchio contemplates a new adventure, Jiminy Cricket warns him of the dangers involved in following that path.  Pinocchio blows by him like an NFL running back past a cheerleader.  Sure enough, Pinocchio suffers the consequences of his willful behavior, finally endangering both his life and Geppetto’s.  Somehow, with Jiminy Cricket’s assistance and his own determination, Pinocchio manages to escape every situation, coming finally to the realization that freedom must have limits if we are to live in a way that ensures happiness for us and for everyone around us—at least we hope he has learned that lesson.
            People refusing to listen to their conscience is a repeating theme in literature.  If we are wise, we will read these cautionary tales, learn from them, and avoid the pitfalls that await us if we ignore our conscience.
            According to Strong’s Complete Concordance (a book which lists significant words in the Bible and where to find them) the word conscience does not appear in the Hebrew Scriptures.  It is, however, found frequently in the New Testament.  Does this mean conscience is a Christian concept?  The word may be found only in the New Testament, but the concept is evident from Adam and Eve on.  We know their story, what happened to them when they didn’t follow their consciences.  Jacob also comes to mind as someone who had to suffer consequences because of his conscience-deafness.  The prophets were sent by God to be the conscience of Israel.  Often they were ignored, as the rulers led the people into one destructive situation after another.
            The first problem with conscience is that it can be ignored. As Nicholas de Chamfort said, “Conscience is a dog that does not stop us from passing but that we cannot stop from barking.” Pinocchio, Jacob, Adam and Eve and so many others have proved that conscience cannot stop us from doing what we want; it can only warn us of the dangers that lie ahead. 
            And that brings us to the second problem with conscience.  The barking of the dog becomes weaker and weaker the more we pass by it.  Perhaps the dog becomes so used to us that it doesn’t try as hard to stop us.  Or perhaps we become more and more deaf to warning barks.  Whichever is true (most likely some of both), the more we ignore our conscience, the easier it becomes to ignore it.  Pinocchio saw Jiminy Cricket as someone who was trying to stop him from having fun—until it was almost too late.
            The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “draw near [to God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience…”
            Good advice for all of us:  listen to our version of Jiminy Cricket.  He knows what he’s talking about.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Choosing One's Own Way

Choosing One’s Own Way
Ephesians 4:30-32
This has long been one of my favorite Scripture passages.  My first introduction to these verses came through a church choir anthem by T. Tertius Noble.  I fell in love with the music, then with the words.
In a way, this is an enlargement of the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s interesting how many of the world’s religions profess some version of this axiom. 
Paul’s list of behaviors to avoid is all about negative ways of communicating with others: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander—attitudes we do not want people to display towards us.  I know I don’t like to hear angry words directed at me—even if I deserve them.  My first reaction is to display anger in return, and that isn’t going to make the situation better.
On the other hand, Paul’s list of positive behaviors—kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness—are ways I want people to interact with me, so that is how I must treat them.  Paul is expressing once again the Golden rule, “Show to others the positive behaviors you would like to have them show to you, and avoid those negative behaviors you do not want to have them show to you.”
Fair enough.  We can’t expect people to interact with us positively if we are not positive towards them.
People trapped in negative situations most often behave negatively, either towards those causing the negative situation, or to those caught in that situation with them.  It’s natural.  It’s what we would probably do in their place.  Dare I say it’s human nature?
I can’t imagine a more negative situation than the concentrations camps of World War II.  The atmosphere was not simply negative but inhumane.  We will never know the full extent of the atrocities committed in those camps in the name of racial purity.  Those who suffered through imprisonment there had—and have—every right to be angry about their mistreatment.  But listen to the words of Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor.
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
To choose one’s own way.  No one can make us behave positively—or negatively.  It’s our choice how we will live our lives, how we will interact with others, whether we will choose to be one who comforts or one who passes on the anger which has been displayed to us.
Jesus Christ came to show us what it means to be completely human.  We see in his life how we are supposed to live: comforting, caring, repaying evil with good, doing unto others what we would have done to us—above all, forgiving rather than passing on anger. 
This is how we must live, not only because, as Paul says, to live in the negative grieves God’s Holy Spirit—as serious an offense as that is—but because we must treat others as we ourselves would be treated.
Is it easy?  Of course not!  It’s much easier to be negative in negative situations.  That’s why, as Frankl says, there were so few comforters, so few sharers.  But to comfort, to share, to be tenderhearted and kind—to forgive!  That’s the real human nature.