Luke 24.31 Their eyes were opened and they
Wormwood is an apprentice devil in
C S Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. In this delightful book the
reader is told of Wormwood's trials and tribulations as he learns how to
tempt a human soul. His uncle, Screwtape, as the Abysmal Sublimity Under
Secretary of the hellish dominions, writes to advise his nephew how to
tighten the noose on his hapless victim.
But in the end the temptation goes wrong. Screwtape
exclaims, "You have let a soul slip through your fingers ... It makes me
mad to think of it." He agonises that "... this thing begotten in a bed,
could look on Him. What is blinding, suffocating fire to you, is now cool
light to him, is clarity itself ..." At last the man is released from the
restrictions of his human nature and sees clearly what he has before only
been able to guess at.
The theme of a hidden God is ancient, featured in
countless folk tales and myths. One such is from Ovid, a Roman poet who
lived about the same time as Jesus. In his Metamorphoses, Ovid
tells how two men unwittingly entertain Jupiter and Mercury with the best
hospitality their poor means can manage. Only when the jar of wine is
miraculously replenished do they recognise the two gods for who they
The same theme occurs in the Old Testament. Abraham
entertains three men. When two leave to go to Sodom, the third stays and
is finally recognised as the Lord God (Genesis 18.1-22). The author of the
letter to the Hebrews appears familiar with the theme. He writes,
"Remember to welcome strangers in your homes. There were some who did that
and welcomed angels without knowing it" (13.2).
The author of Luke's Gospel in today's reading tells a
similar tale. True to the folk story, two travelers to Emmaus fail to
recognise Jesus until he
shares a meal with them (Luke 24.35). Jesus vanishes the moment they
realise who he is.
The divine isn't easy to recognise. It's a "still, small
voice" which has to be listened for with the greatest of care (1 Kings
19.12). We somehow know that God is with us, and yet are frustrated by not
being able to see the divine clearly. Most of the time it's as though we
glimpse God out of the corner of an eye - here one moment and gone the
Folk-tales of the past, charming and in many ways instructive, don't
carry the weight they once did. Today many feel cut off from visions of
God. It's as though however hard we try, we fail to recognise God in
ordinary, everyday experience. We often feel blind and deaf to the divine
in our tough, materialistic, scientific world.
Some have tried philosophical arguments to "prove" that God exists.
Their answers turn out to be nice brain teasers but otherwise almost
useless. Some try to turn back the clock as though little or nothing has
changed in two millennia and that the old tales still have a punch. Others
shrug and go about their business, declaring that bothering about God is a
waste of time.
A large part of the attraction of Jesus seems to have been his clear
and certain vision of God. His relatives and neighbours wondered where he
got it from. But how does that help us today, two thousand years later? We
are not now so fortunate as to have him to sharpen our blurred sight.
No, there are no neat answers. God doesn't appear to us as a full-blown
vision. That never has been and never will be. To Christians, the person
of Jesus is recognised as Emmanuel, the Hebrew word for "God is
with us". If anyone wants to know what God is like, say Christian sages,
then the vision of Jesus is enough.
But is Jesus enough? He's long-dead - and unless one perceives the
world as somehow in contact with a supernatural dimension, only a shadowy
historical figure is left with us today.
The truth is much more challenging. It is, I think, that God has chosen
to be other-than the universe and the world of which we are part. God is
unknowable by us, quite literally beyond our ken.
If that is true, then God can be recognised only in and through
creation. God has as many faces as the people we meet. The divine lies
deep in the heart of each us, if we will only search. The God of our
fathers nestles both in the immensely large and in the almost infinitely
small aspects of nature. God may come to us unannounced, or may have to be
sought after with determination.
Recognising and attempting to harmonise ourselves with the divine is,
if Jesus, Paul and a host of Christians are to be believed, the point of
human life. The rest of nature does this automatically. We, on the other
hand, must freely choose to do it.