Today’s lesson demonstrates the biblical understanding of
Truth as "non-concealment – the disclosure of the real state of
affairs." After the crucifixion, Cleopas and another disciple are leaving Jerusalem for Emmaus when they are joined by a stranger who appears to be a rabbi. The ensuing journey changes the disciples’
Robert McAfee Brown once described truth as transformed or
engaged knowledge (see “Emmaus … and Back Again: A New Way of Knowing,”
Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes, 1984, pp. 21-32). An example of
truth as transforming or engaged knowledge is the exchange between Jesus and a lawyer
that leads us to hear the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The lawyer asks an “academic” question:
"Who is my neighbor?" He
assumes that an “academic” discussion defining a "neighbor" will follow. Jesus transforms the "academic"
question into an engaged question: "Which
among them proved neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?" Then Jesus closes the deal when to the
lawyer’s answer he responds “Go and do likewise.” As Brown puts it, "We do not really know
the truth unless we are doing the truth, and only in the doing of the truth
will we finally know the truth."
Jesus demonstrates the movement from the abstract and
academic to the engaged and transformed through the discourse on the Road ot Emmaus. The developmental sequence moves from "searching
for truth," to "listening for truth," and then finally "embodying
Searching for truth begins with the question "What is
going on?" On the Emmaus
Road the search for truth begins with a
"learning situation" – a teacher takes the initiative with students (note
that Jesus approached the disciples). Jesus invites himself into the disciples’ conversation with a questions
about "these things." The
response is a mixture of confusion and consternation as they describe the
rumors of a resurrection and the speculative "idle tale" of
A genuine search for truth begins with where we are, what is
happening in our lives, and what is happening in our world. Jesus encourages the two on the road to
express exactly what is weighing heavily on their hearts and minds. Only then
does he interject.
But searching is only a starting point. By itself searching often ends in
disappointment, confusion and fear – the situation doesn’t add up; something is
missing – “we thought he was the One to come.” Yet it is only by experiencing this stage of the search that the
disciples are ready to listen to the truth Jesus will now lay before them.
People will only accept the truth when they want the truth. That is why the indirect approach to
evangelism is often far more successful than the direct approach. Jesus’ confidence in allowing questions,
doubts, and fears to surface before providing answers acknowledges the
importance of maintaining in life a curiosity about life. When we are given all the answers up front, we
sometimes forget how to ask questions. And in short-circuiting this process we can often never enter a
conversation that leads us into the universal search for truth.
Having opened the floor to questions that confound them,
Jesus skillfully leads his disciples onto the next stage for engaging truth – listening
for truth. Dialogue takes a back seat as
Jesus lectures his students on "what went on in the past?" Jesus implies that to understand what is going
on now we must first understand what went on before. Steeped in the heritage of a history-conscious
people, Jesus begins at the beginning in order to make sense of the present.
From the storehouse of scripture Jesus offers a kind of remedial course on
salvation history beginning with the earliest of prophecies. But Jesus’ use of the past is not stagnant. He interprets the past within the context of
the seemingly hopeless present. The
words of Moses and the prophets carry new hope and new life when they are
delivered from the mouth of a resurrected Messiah. As on the road that day, a resurrected Jesus
must each new generation come to know the truth.
In the Christian life discerning the truth is never just an
armchair or ivory tower affair. The
third stage of engaged knowledge about truth is embodying the truth. Moving from theory to practice is an essential
part of the lesson and method that Jesus teaches.
As the travelers on the Emmaus Road approach their destination, they notice the stranger is going farther. Excited by their conversation and entranced by
their companion, the two students invite the uninvited stranger to stay for
supper. In this simple act they move
from theorizing about redemption and reconciliation to engaging in redemptive
and reconciling acts. As Luke makes
clear through his gospel, sitting at table places one in a unique
interrelationship with one’s tablemates. There is moral accountability to hearing;
hearing and obeying go together. Jesus’
two companions on the road demonstrate moral responsibility when they invite
the unrecognized and un-welcomed Jesus to share food with them.
Now they both know what Jesus has been talking about: "He was known to them in the breaking of
the bread." Wisdom and insight are
given through acts of love and generosity. Jesus is made known in our doing. As Brown puts it, the disciples discovered
that "it is not ‘enunciated truth’ that matters so much as ‘enacted truth.’"
Knowing truth is not fully possible unless we are doing
truth. Notice that the disciples in
Emmaus did not say, "Did not our hearts burn within us when he broke the
bread and ate with us." Rather they
testified that it was "while he was talking with us on the road" that
they remembered their hearts stirring. Their
enacting of truth gave power to the previous discussions of truth they had on
Two final words: First, truth must be embodied within one’s
life as the personal experiences of those who encountered the risen Jesus
illustrate. Second, truth must also
become embodied without. It must reach
beyond our minds and hearts and escape our lips. When Jesus leaves the travelers in Emmaus the
action is no longer around the table. The
two disciples know they must go where the real action is. They return to Jerusalem that night to tell others what they have experienced. Brown reminds us that “they may not sit around
for the rest of the evening saying to one another, ‘Wow! Have we ever had a
fantastic religious experience.’"’ Engaged
truth calls for us to spread the news, not sit on our hands.