Bible Explorations | David Loleng
What is God up to?
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus prepares his disciples for a ‘new normal.’ | Read: Luke 24:13–35
When the author of the Gospel of Luke describes the walk to Emmaus, he is writing primarily to the second generation of Jesus followers. The temple has been destroyed. Springing up all over the Roman Empire are churches filled with Gentile believers—in other words, outsiders. They are being persecuted for their faith. This was not what the early church expected from the expansion of the gospel. Early Christians thought this would mostly be a Jewish movement.
These developments raised a hard question: How can we discern what God is doing in the world and in the changing context of the church? Roughly 2,000 years later, the church in North America is asking the same question!
Here, on the road to Emmaus, in the interaction Jesus has with two would-be disciples, we find three examples of how we can begin to answer that question and be the church within a “new normal.”
In verse 15 we are told that “Jesus himself came near and went with them.” He sought them out and “walked along with them” (NIV). That verse reminds me of John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (The Message).
As a church, we are called to walk with people, especially those outside the church. Our churches can’t just be about gathering. We must also send those in our churches into the community to love and serve others, to help set things right, and to stand against evil.
When one of the travelers expresses surprise that Jesus seems unaware of recent events, Jesus asks (in v. 19), “What things?”
Some might wonder why Jesus would ask such a question. The conventional explanation is that he wanted the two to make a profession of faith, and I’m sure that’s true, but I also think that Jesus is offering these two travelers an important opportunity to express their pain and get it out in the open. He wants to enter into their narrative, their story. And this gift of someone to listen is precisely what the church should be offering.
It’s a calling I try to live out daily, albeit imperfectly. Through book collecting, for instance, I became friends with “Mark,” an antiques dealer, who is an atheist and skeptic. One day when I stopped by his store, he asked, “How’s the ‘business’?” I chuckled and felt prompted to ask: “So what’s your story? Do you have a faith journey?” To my surprise, he shared that he had grown up believing in God. But when he lost his young daughter to cancer, he asked himself, “How can I believe there is a God who would allow this to happen?” This interaction changed our conversations and allowed me to see how God could use me to bring healing and to share with him about the God I knew. I have often said to others that if I had 10 minutes to share the gospel with someone, I would spend the first nine listening. If we want know what God is up to, we need to enter into the narratives of others.
Verse 30 says, “He [Jesus] was at the table with them.” Jesus was present, and so must be the church. We need more than programs that attract people. We need more than an outreach strategy or periodic works of justice, service, and advocacy.
We need to establish deep connections with people in our communities, so that we are literally in their homes and at “table” with others. In these relationships, we begin to find the clues of what God is up to in our communities and workplaces. Paul writes, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with
you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”
(1 Thess. 2:8 NIV).
The challenge for the church—and for each of us—is to learn to walk with people, to enter into people’s narratives, and to be at table with others.
By being this kind of church, we begin to know what God is up to and we join with Christ in his mission to bring healing and wholeness to our broken world. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).
David Loleng is the associate for evangelism in the office of Evangelism and Church Growth in the Presbyterian Mission Agency.