So it’s not long after the crucifixion and two of the disciples are on their way to Emmaus, a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Somewhere along the road they meet up with a stranger, who asks them about their heartbreak. They walk along the road, talking about the Messiah, and the stranger seems to know a lot more than they’d expect because suddenly he’s putting meat on the crucified bones of the last few days. They reach their home and they invite the stranger in, because hospitality, but when the stranger prays and breaks bread, suddenly their eyes are opened and they realise that the stranger was Jesus all along…
This is a strange, liminal moment, set in the borderlands of a city and an event as two disciples meet with Jesus at the edges of the story. Jesus is present throughout, skirting the narratives of the disciples until finally he’s revealed, whereupon he vanishes, both grace and air rushing in to fill the space he leaves behind.
Jesus is presented as a stranger here, and it’s not clear why. It echoes Mary meeting him in the garden and mistaking him for the gardener, and maybe that’s a good place to start, because here, as with Mary, a mistaken identity points to something more profound.
See, we read this and assume that this is purely a physical thing, that Jesus somehow looked different after the resurrection. But it’s clear that the disciples had never really had a grasp of Jesus’s deeper identity. “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Jesus asked them as they walked down the road, but it’s a rhetorical question because the disciples don’t seem to have realised that. They had followed Jesus for a while, maybe the whole three years, and yet they couldn’t see the whole story.
We think we know Jesus, but here’s the thing – sometimes we don’t recognise him when he’s right in front of us. We’re busy looking for a self-help Jedi master or a badass armed with an assault rifle and a full-metal camo Bible, and we don’t recognise the Messiah in front of us. We think we know who were looking for, but he remains hidden.
So we need to be on the look out, we need to keep our eyes open. Listen to that stranger on the road, look at his hands, because he might be the one you thought you were following all along. And examine your preconceptions, identify your prejudices, because they can sometimes leave us blind; they can sometimes turn Jesus into a stranger.