Cleopas and his buddy are a bit confused, because Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet who many thought was the redeemer of Israel, had just been handed over and crucified. His trial and execution had been an all day, public ordeal, everybody knew about it.
“What? Have you not heard? Have you been living under a rock?!” Cleopas asks.
“Well, yes actually,” replies the stranger. (Read it again, you’ll get the joke)
So Cleopas gives the stranger a much needed news update about all that has transpired concerning Jesus of Nazareth. And in return, the stranger rebukes the two men and proceeds to give them a long Biblical lesson about the Messiah and how it was foretold he would come, starting all the way back at Moses. I have to assume that this took the rest of the seven miles, before the three finally reached Emmaus and invited the stranger to come in and stay with them instead of continuing to talk through the night.
Finally sheltered away from the elements, the three sit down at the table where the stranger takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to them. And in that moment, their eyes are opened and they recognize that Jesus was the man they had been walking with.
Now, I don’t know if you’re like me, but if you are, then you spend the majority of Luke 24:13-35 wondering when these two idiots are going to recognize their Savior right in front of their faces. Harsh? Maybe. But come on Cleopas! And yet they don’t recognize him, not until a very specific moment. And to me, the specific moment when they realize it’s who is before them conveys a very powerful truth about faith in Jesus and what it means to live like and walk with Him.
These two men, Cleopas and his unnamed buddy pal, spend an entire day with Jesus, they walk seven miles with him, they hear him teach nearly the entirety of the scriptures, and yet they don’t recognize him until when? They recognize him only when He begins to break the bread, when he draws himself into community with them. And for me, that points to something very profound.
Jesus was not recognized by His teaching in this circumstance, He was recognized by His heart for community and sharing love.
The Christian faith is often twisted into a simplistic message of “preach to convert, preach to convert.” We claim the Great Commission as our cause and we use it as an excuse to shove the graceful love of Jesus painfully down the throats of non-believers. By doing this, we ignore what the Great Commission is actually saying.
First and foremost, Jesus says to make disciples. Then He says baptize them. And then he calls us to teach them. It sounds to me like the salvation and redemption part comes way before the preaching and teaching to “do right”.
To me, this is the heart of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not say follow all these rules, or, “change, and then you can join us”, although we so often make it sound like that. The Gospel of Jesus, and the Great Commission He gave screams the glorious message of, “join us, and you will change!”
The fact that Jesus was recognized only when breaking the bread leads me to believe that perhaps there is a more powerful, and more Christ-like way to make disciples then the classic “preach to convert” method. Perhaps the way we can look most like Jesus, and be recognized as His followers, and therefore draw in more disciples, is by committing ourselves first to breaking bread and living in community with those who are lost and looking for their way home.
So may we stop using the Great Commission as an excuse to be self-righteous and condemning, and may we instead, realize the truth behind Jesus’ calling to invite others in, so that he may be recognized in us, and so he can begin to do his teaching and redemptive work in their lives.