Early in “Star Wars: Episode IV–A New Hope,” Luke Skywalker meets Ben Kenobi, a “strange old hermit who lives out beyond the dune sea.” Luke is fascinated by the man’s stories and antique lightsaber, but much of what Luke sees confirms his uncle’s description of Ben: a “crazy old wizard” and something of a crackpot. When Ben invites Luke to join the rebellion with him, Luke thinks him delusional.
He was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time. (1 Pt 1:20)
How have you frustrated yourself trying to find Christ without starting by encountering others?
When has Christ surprised you in an encounter with a stranger? What led you to recognize Christ’s presence?
The viewer realizes before Luke does that Ben is not what he appears. When a team of stormtroopers stops to question them, Ben waves his hand and the troopers start to repeat every word he says. The viewer realizes that, whatever else Ben may be, he is not some senile kook. It is a moment of dramatic revelation, when all at once the viewer recognizes Obi-Wan Kenobi to be a Jedi knight of significant power.
A similar scene appears in the Gospel today. Luke the Evangelist likes these moments of dramatic revelation and gives us many of them in his writings. The shepherds in awe at the manger, Simeon and Anna giving praise in the temple, the crowds astonished at the healing of the paralytic, Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus—Luke recognizes that for many of Jesus’ followers, discipleship only began with a moment of astonished recognition when, “struck with awe, they said, ‘We have seen incredible things today’” (Lk 5:26).
Luke passed on the Emmaus story to help later disciples share in this astonishment and recognition. The narrative begins with two disciples trying to figure out the meaning of the events surrounding Jesus’ death. Luke has them conversing and debating among themselves, but this was clearly getting them nowhere; Luke calls their frustration “slowness of heart.” It was only when they encountered a stranger with different ideas that their hearts began to burn with understanding. Moreover, it was only after an act of hospitality, their invitation to Jesus to lodge and eat with them, that they came to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. In this we see the effects of Luke’s Greek education, which held that truth can best be found through extended dialogue.
In this Gospel passage, Luke teaches disciples of every era how to recognize Jesus even when they do not expect him. When the disciples looked only within, they met with frustration. There is something about life in Christ that resists solitary investigation. It is through encounters with other persons—through conversation, hospitality, service, even debate—that Jesus most reliably reveals himself. As the disciples did in today’s Gospel, we can prepare our hearts by meditating on the word of God, reflecting on our experiences and showing hospitality to others. Just as they found Christ only when they welcomed a stranger, so must we be ready to encounter another whose words can set our hearts afire.