Slow to Believe

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Two men, disciples of Jesus, walk down the road to Emmaus talking about what had happened over the last three days. They are stunned with grief, yet astounded too by the news they have heard from some of the women in their company, who had gone to the tomb early that morning and come back with the news that Jesus’ body was not there, and that angels had appeared to them and told them that he was alive. Such paradoxical news, given the fact of his death on the cross, and his burial in the tomb so recently. What do you do with this kind of news?

It was only three days ago that the one they had thought, and even believed, was the Messiah who would redeem Israel, had been tortured and nailed to a Roman cross to die. They had not had time enough to process all that had happened. They had been filled with wild and mixed emotions that day; fear and unspeakable sense of loss. Some even guilt for not having defended him with their lives, or worse, for having denied him. Now this news from some of the women in the group. What could it all mean? Did the Pharisees, or the Romans have his body taken away? These two forlorn disciples were like two lost souls. They were confused and were conversing with each other, trying to come to grips with all of this as they walked along the lonely, dusty road to the village of Emmaus.

Then a man draws near and asks them a curious question: ʺWhat are you discussing as you walk along?ʺ They are incredulous. They stop in their tracks at this man’s question. They are so caught up in their own suffering, their own doubts, and their own sense of desolation concerning the still too recent events, that they neither recognize their inquisitor, nor the strangeness of his question. They look at him as if he is crazy and reply with some consternation, ʺAre you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days? The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people? How the chief priests and ruler both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.ʺ Then, we can imagine, they drop their gaze, and their tone shifts to sadness as they become more introspective again and say, ʺWe were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.ʺ Then shifts again as they tell of the women going out to the tomb.

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These two men and the emotions they are going through speak for so many of us. Death has a way of knocking us off balance, disturbing our emotional equilibrium. Like us, they had fallen into the trap of expectations. Expectations say more about us than we would like to think. We set others up with our expectations of them and, more often than not, they fail us, or because they do not meet OUR expectations, we think of them as having failed us. That is the problem of expectations; they are OUR expectations, and OUR expectations often have little to do with reality. They are simply an expression of how we ʺwantʺ things to be. Our mistake is to presume that things ought to go the ways we want them to go. But, because our vision is both finite, and often clouded by emotions, we are, more often than not, wrong in our expectations. Within our human relationships, we forget that the other is as capable of errors in judgement, and failures in love, as I am. And sometimes this is how we relate to Jesus too. If he fails to meet OUR expectations we become confused, despondent, unhinged.

When that happens we need to hear what these two disciples heard from him as they walked together down the road to Emmaus: ʺOh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?ʺ We have to let go of our self-concerned expectations of Jesus, and look again at the evidence of Jesus’ love, and God’s plan for us that has been given to us in the Scriptures. What Jesus did was exactly what the Holy Spirit had inspired the prophets to foretell. It all unfolded as the prophecies said it would. How often do we get caught up, though, like these two disciples, feeling ourselves lost at sea because Jesus did not meet OUR personal, ego-driven expectations of him? How many times have we been on the edge of losing our faith in him, because he did not do what WE wanted him to do?
As they walk, Jesus gives the evidence to these two disciples again. He tells them all of the prophecies beginning with Moses and all the other prophets. He tells them in such a way that they hear it, as if for the first time, in the way it was meant to be heard, without the blinders of human expectations. How many times in our lives have our expectations been crushed and sent us into paroxysms of anger or doubt? When that happens to us it often takes some monumental event, some stunning revelation of some kind, to get us to see that it was OUR expectations were the problem, not the other’s failures.

The fact is that Jesus did not, and does not, fail us in anything. But he does challenge us, on those occasions we need it, to see what he has done for us more clearly. These two disciples are experiencing that challenge as they walk with this ʺstrangerʺ who is telling them what they already knew, but in a way that is better than they had ever heard before. Their hearts ʺwere burning within them while he spoke to [them] on the way and opened the Scriptures to [them].ʺ

What happens next proves that all of that Scriptural ʺevidenceʺ was true. Jesus sits at table with them, ʺtakes bread, says the blessing, [breaks] it, and [gives] it to them.ʺ And suddenly, they recognize who he is! Then, just as quickly he vanishes from their sight. It is true! It is all true! Jesus is alive! Are we not filled with a desire to rush off to tell the others this fact, just like these two disciples?

We need to rid ourselves of our faulty expectations of Jesus. He has already done for us all that was necessary. He has fulfilled all of the prophecies. The answers to all of our hopes and dreams are in everything that Jesus said and did. It is up to us now, each one of us, to give joyful thanks to him, by living up to those answers that are in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.