Last month, I wrote a blog about Bonhoeffer’s challenge to us about not approaching community with our list of demands, but rather to enter into community as thankful recipients of what God has already done. But even when we do not demand our vision for community but gratefully receive where God has placed us and with whom God has placed us, we will still inevitably experience disappointment in community.
So what do we do?
Thankfully Jesus gives us an example when He walks with two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35.
Cleopas and, who I can only assume is his friend, are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the Sunday after Jesus had been crucified. While this Sunday will quickly turn to be the glorious Resurrection Sunday we continue to celebrate 2000 years later, right now this day is anything but joyous. Cleopas and his friend feel like they have been sucker-punched; duped by another false, dead Messiah.
As they are walking and dialoguing about all that had transpired, Jesus appears beside them, yet unrecognizable. Jesus plays dumb and enquires about what they are talking about. What is slightly ironic about the two disciples’ response is that they recite who Jesus is to Jesus himself (see Luke 24:19-24). In the midst of their response is a phrase that causes me to stop and reflect: “But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).
There will times in all of our lives and ministry when Jesus will ask you and me (He may ask us directly or He may ask us through friends), “What’s going on?” And our response will be, “I had hoped….” There will also be times when we do the same for others.
What can we learn from Jesus so that we can have real hope and also be able to walk alongside others, offering them real hope?
- Jesus walks alongside, asks, and then listens. This may sound obvious and simple, but it can be so difficult for us to do. The most difficult and simultaneously profound part is to listen. We need to hear the other’s experience, not discounting it right off the bat, and as best as we are able to enter into it.
- Jesus explains the Scriptures. Jesus shows them the truth of God’s Word and Promises. For probably a few hours (the journey was 7 miles), Jesus explains how everything in Moses and the Prophets (aka the Old Testament), pointed to Him, His work, His death and His resurrection. Even as Jesus gives quite possibly the best sermon ever on the Old Testament, the disciples still don’t recognize who is speaking to them. God’s Word and His Promises are sufficient, and yet in this moment, the disciples still don’t fully grasp it. In the midst of dashed and destroyed hope, a few verses are never enough, and may do more harm than good. Yes, people need Scripture, but more than that, in the darkness of despair, we need a personal encounter with others and ultimately with our Triune God. Which is exactly what Jesus does.
- Jesus enters into the mundane of their lives. As evening descends, Cleopas and his friend invite Jesus to stay with them; they extend hospitality to the stranger. But a strange thing happens: Instead of being a guest, Jesus becomes the host. At once the disciples’ eyes are open, recognizing the One who has been in their midst this whole time. The disciples recognize Jesus in the most daily of activities, eating. Everything has changed with the resurrection—the curse of sin has been broken—but in some ways, nothing has changed. We still journey together; we still eat. Once they recognize Jesus in the everyday activity of eating, they also realize the power of Jesus’ words as He explained the Scriptures to them.
And this is where I see the deep connection to what you and I do as small group point people. While the Word must be central to what we do, the Word has more power when we walk alongside and listen, and also enter into the ordinariness of people’s lives. People are aching to be heard, and aching to have someone share life with them. And through that people will realize the transformative power of God’s words to us.