13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
This passage follows a common motif in Scripture, and that is when individuals fail to recognize God’s presence in their midst. Abraham, Moses, and Joshua all have such accounts in the Old Testament, and in those accounts, it is difficult for us to understand their lack of perception. How could they not see that the visitor among them was really God? It is easy to feel the same way about the disciples in Luke 24 – after all, women had just told them that Jesus was not in the tomb, and an angel had said that He had risen from the dead. After all that, how could they still not see that Jesus was right in front of them?
I think there is a supernatural explanation for this, that perhaps it was God that actively prevented them from recognizing Christ on the road. But a more practical explanation for this strangeness comes from the second half of verse 17, where it says that “their faces were downcast.” I don’t think it is hard to believe that it was their sadness that caused them to completely miss the fact that Jesus was right next to them. After all, they had just been firsthand witnesses to a traumatic scene: their friend and teacher being beaten and nailed to a cross, hanging there for hours. After an event like that, I’m sure that there are many things that we would fail to perceive as well. But despite this, the fact of the matter is that Jesus is right in front of their very eyes!
The same dynamic often prevents us from seeing God’s presence in our lives as well. We become so focused on the events of our lives, particularly the negative ones, that we are completely unable to perceive that God is right in front of us, or next to us. We feel completely hopeless, not realizing that God is closer than He has ever been. That is why it is always good, even the midst of the most difficult of circumstances, to breathe, and step back. To try to remember the larger picture. Now, for people with type A personalities (ME!), that can be extremely difficult. The last thing we want to do is step away from whatever we are focused upon, because we want to hammer it out in a single sitting. But that simple step of stepping away from total absorption gives us just enough space to see the truth, that God is not nearly as far as He feels. So…
…Parents, if your kids are driving you crazy, breathe! Let it go! Although it may feel as if God is far, He’s not. Don’t let that moment of familial insanity prevent you from seeing God. Students who are studying for finals right now, these two weeks are not the totality of your life. You will finish, and move on. God is bigger than your finals, and with you as you prepare. Same goes for those who are overwhelmed by work, or personal circumstances, or whatever. It is hard, but make sure that there is a little space between you and those situations and emotions, so that you won’t miss out on the presence of Christ next to you, as the disciples did on the road to Emmaus.