• Steven Marsh

Peace–Faith Does Not Require Proof: a Reflection on Luke 24:13-35

Two of the disciples were walking to Emmaus, a seven-mile journey from Jerusalem. It was at some point during that forty-day period following the resurrection but before the ascension. On the journey, a stranger came alongside the disciples in their journey. What occurred in their conversation was startling. The stranger, who was Jesus, enabled the two disciples “…to put together the disparate experiences of life into a meaningful, coherent whole, to see a pattern and purpose in human history.”[1] Jesus demonstrated that faith in him gathers all the things that do not make sense in life, begins to bring sense to one’s experience, and provides an overarching plan that history does make sense since God is at work in and through it all. Do any of you desire the disparate experiences in your life to be put together into a meaningful whole so that you can see a pattern and purpose to it all?

In Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson is an attorney who represents inmates on death row in Alabama. Holding the disparate parts together and keeping hope alive, Stephenson writes,

…I found myself deeply distressed. I was worried about the execution dates that were set for every other month in Alabama. I was worried about what the U.S. Supreme Court would do with all the children condemned to die in prison, now that it had the issue to consider. I was worried about our funding and whether we had enough staff and resources to meet the demands of our expanding docket. I was worried about several clients who were struggling…After working for more than twenty-five years, I understand that I don’t do what I do because it’s required or necessary or important. I do it because I have no choice. I do what I do because I’m broken, too.[2]

Bryan Stevenson, a man committed to Judeo-Christian values, “founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.”[3] Bryan uses the biblical justice-love hermeneutic to gather all that doesn’t make sense and bring it to a meaningful and coherent whole. And we can trust Jesus to do the same in our lives.

Jesus’ death on the cross exposes the radical nature of sin and the radical nature of God’s love for broken people who live in a broken world. A story about the horrific death of a son and the generous forgiveness of a parent demonstrates this point:

Author Henri Nouwen tells the story of a family he knew in Paraguay. The father, a doctor, spoke out against the military regime there and its human rights abuses. Local police took their revenge on him by arresting his teenage son and torturing him to death. Enraged townsfolk wanted to turn the boy’s funeral into a huge protest march, but the doctor chose another means of protest. At the funeral, the father displayed his son’s body as he had found it in the jail—naked, scarred from electric shocks and cigarette burns, and beatings. All the villagers filed past the corpse, which lay not in a coffin but on the blood-soaked mattress from the prison. It was the strongest protest imaginable, for it put injustice on grotesque display. Isn’t that what God did at Calvary? … The cross that held Jesus’ body, naked and marked with scars, exposed all the violence and injustice of this world. At once, the cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness, a God of sacrificial love.[4]

The cross and resurrection demonstrate God the Father loving and the Son of God, Jesus, giving his life for humanity…for you…for me.

The story of the road to Emmaus engages us in two ways. First, Jesus opens the mind to understand the Scriptures. On the road to Emmaus, the disciples lived in the crucible of familiarity and mystery. The stranger, Jesus, opened the minds of the disciples to the reality of love winning and death losing. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, not only the two disciples but every human has the offer to believe in Jesus and have the story of salvation capture them. And that, my friends, is the profound message of the Scriptures. Luke 24:27 reads, “…beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them all things about himself in all the scriptures.” Jesus opened their minds and opens our minds to understand the redemptive narrative of the Scriptures, Genesis to Revelation. You are loved.

Second, the resurrected Jesus helps you address the human condition. When the disciples saw the risen Jesus, there was both recognition and confusion. Believing and knowing are two different things. Knowing is belief that is actively engaged in life through attitudinal, ethical, and behavioral change. Belief makes no difference until one uses it in real life situations. On the road to Emmaus, the two disciples knew the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection. They knew the story of God’s love calling a people to know, love, and follow Jesus. But it was their beliefs not being put into action that caused their knowledge to be ineffective for the real life needs they experienced.

And so, we are to live by faith, demanding limited if any proof. In other words, what difference does the risen savior make when death, not love, appears to be winning? When death appears to be winning an examination of relationships is warranted. Relationships that are grounded in forgiveness and hope are relationships that endure. Jesus reassured the disciples that hope was real and his love for them profound. Hear the words of the two disciples after supping with Jesus, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”[5]

Yes, we are to live by faith, demanding limited if any proof. When the resurrected Jesus intersects the reality of our predicament, we find ourselves standing still. And this is a good thing. Grapple with being stopped in your tracks. When the stranger asked the two disciples what they were doing, they stopped in their tracks. The stranger invited them from isolation into community; from thoughts of despair into hope. Jesus intersected their despair-filled experience. And then when they supped with Jesus, they were enlivened with trust and hope. “…Actions more than words, welcome more than self-protection provides the space where others might fearlessly enter and find themselves at home.”[6] When we have that moment to comprehend God meeting us in whatever the predicament might be, we move out of isolation into community with God and others. The disparate parts of one’s life are brought together in a coherent whole.

Love wins. Death loses. If you have been illuminated by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, then offer witness to how Jesus meets you when you’re at the end of your rope. Recall how all you can do is pause, stop, and say, “Thank you God for loving me. I will trust that you’ve got this!” Faith does not require proof. Stop. Listen. Act. There is a plan and purpose for your life.

[1]John H. Leith, Basic Christian Doctrine (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), 30.

[2]Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (New York City, New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014), 277, 288-289.

[3]From the inside front jacket of Just Mercy.

[4]As told by Philip Yancey in Disappointment with God (Zondervan, 1997), 185-186.

[5]Luke 24:32

[6]Molly T. Marshall in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 422.

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