Sunday, May 4, 2014

Their eyes were kept from recognizing him

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
At St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Davidson, N.C., a new statue was recently installed. It is a statue of Jesus curled up on a bench, covered by a blanket. From a distance, he appears to be a person without a home seeking shelter on the bench. Only on closer inspection can one see the wounds of the crucifixion that reveal his identity. The statue bears the title Jesus the Homeless.
Someone in the wealthy neighborhood where the church is located called the police when she first saw the statue. She thought the statue was an actual homeless person, and she didn't want homeless people in her neighborhood. Her eyes were kept from recognizing him. Oh, how foolish we are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!
With a statue, the wounds known as the stigmata serve as the punch line, the big reveal to say, "Hey, this is Jesus." What about real people who are without a home? How often is Jesus in our midst without that big reveal? How often do we fail to talk and to break bread with him, so we never have our eyes opened and recognize him?
Matthew's Gospel tells us: The king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?" And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."
Jesus is among us all the time, but our eyes are kept from recognizing him.
The disciples knew the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread. How do we know the Lord Jesus? One body are we, alleluia, for though many we share one bread. How often is this true? How often do we keep our bread, our body, our lives so deliberately set apart from those in need? How often do we build walls so we don't have to associate with "them?" So we don't shop at the same stores, or send our children to the same schools, or have to wait in the same waiting rooms as those we find less desirable to be around? How often do we cut ourselves off from the one bread, the one body? How often do we cut ourselves off from the chance to encounter Jesus in the face of the poor?
Jesus is in our midst. But like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we don't always know it. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, our eyes are kept from recognizing him. But Jesus is in our midst.
The disciples thought they could help this poor fool they met. They managed to meet the one ignoramus who didn't know about the things that had taken place there in those days. They managed to find the only person who hadn't heard about what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. The disciples thought they were bringing enlightenment to someone who was in the dark. They thought they were the ministers, and the uninformed stranger on the road was the one to be served. And it is meet and right that we should help the uninformed become informed. It is meet and right to help those who need our help. But in this case, their eyes were kept from recognizing him. The ones who thought they were the teachers were, in fact, the students. Those who thought they were doing the feeding in fact were the ones being fed.
When we feed the hungry, when we welcome the stranger, when we visit the prisoner, we are not helping the unfortunate. We are encountering Jesus himself in the face of those in need, and all that we do to serve is no more than we owe to our Lord and Savior, who feeds us and gives us grace. When we prepare meals for South Oakland Shelter, when we reach out to help the refugees at Freedom House, when we sing with the home bound, we, like the disciples, think we are the ones serving. But we need to look for the face of Christ in those we encounter, and treat those we encounter with all the dignity and love that is due to the body of Christ. When we extend hospitality, like the disciples on the road, our call is that we too come to know the presence of the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread. That we too come to realize that when we think we are serving, we are in fact encountering our Lord. When we think we are teaching, we are in fact learning the truths we truly need to know.
Jesus is in our midst. Are not our hearts burning within us while he is talking to us on the road? The Lord is risen indeed, and is made known to us in breaking bread with strangers. Alleluia.