Eyes to See
Once there was a shoemaker who was saying his prayers before bed when he heard a voice saying, “I will visit you tomorrow.” The shoemaker did not usually hear voices, but this one was unmistakable. He had never heard the voice before, but he recognized it immediately, and as the voice spoke, a warm golden glow filled the room. The shoemaker knew. Jesus would be coming to pay a call on him.
The shoemaker was very excited the next morning, but he still had work to do. He had shoes to create and repairs that needed to be made on other shoes. He had to go about his work, even if he was going to encounter the living Christ.
Late in the morning, he heard a knock on the door and his heart almost stopped beating. He wiped his hands on his apron and hurried to open the door. But there was no one there who looked at all like Jesus. Instead there stood an old man. He smelled so bad it was almost coming off him in waves – unwashed and stinking of cigarettes and alcohol. He was not wearing a coat, and it was very cold out. The shoemaker’s heart sank, but he could not close the door on someone so much in need. He invited the man in to sit and warm himself. As he went back to his work, he saw that the man’s shoes were falling to pieces. “Come over here,” he said, and he measured the rough and crippled feet and immediately gave him a new pair of shoes.
The old man went on his way, and the shoemaker went back to work. The day passed, and in the afternoon he heard a knock on the door again. Here was Jesus! But the person who stood there looked even less like Jesus than the first visitor. It was an old woman who was almost bent in half under the load of firewood she was carrying to sell. The shoemaker rolled his eyes, but he invited her in to rest. As they talked, she admitted that she had not eaten anything in two days, and he jumped up to give her half a loaf of bread and some cheese to take with her.
The door closed again, and the shoemaker went back to work until evening, when it got too dark to continue. He had been listening for a knock at the door all day, which might be why he heard the small, very soft tapping on the door. On the doorstep was a little boy, crying and exhausted. He was lost. The shoemaker looked up and down the street to see if he could spy Mom. He hated to leave his shop unattended – what if he missed out on Jesus? – but of course, he took the child’s hand and led him home.
When he returned to his shop, he sank down onto his knees.
“Lord,” he said, “I don’t expect you to actually come see me. That’s far beyond what any ordinary person could expect. But why did you say you were coming and then not show up?”
As he had before, the shoemaker heard a voice and felt the room fill with warmth.
“My dear child,” the voice said, “I came to walk alongside you three times today. You gave me new shoes; you let me rest and fed me; and at nightfall you took me home.”
The shoemaker had experienced the living Christ each time he acted in His name for his brothers and sisters. There was Christ – the living Christ – visiting this shoemaker, not once but three times. He wasn’t wearing a name tag that said, “Hello, my name is Jesus,” no halo, no golden glow, and so the shoemaker didn’t see Jesus. But because the shoemaker was a child of God, and guided by the teachings of Jesus, he offered hospitality to his brothers and sisters. Shelter. Rest. A pair of shoes. Food. The way home. And in those acts of love, the shoemaker encountered the living Christ.
And like the shoemaker, the disciples on the road to Emmaus experience the living Christ only when they act in His name for another person. Once they have invited Him into their home, and given Him food, and he has broken the bread, then they experience the living Christ for themselves, and it is only then that they see Him for who He is.
Now we’d like to think that maybe the disciples were a little dense, here. How could they not know that Jesus was walking right alongside them? It’s easy, when we hear this story, to say to ourselves, “Earth to Cleopas! I’m sure that I would notice Jesus walking with me.”
The disciples knew what happened to Jesus. He was dead. Of course they weren’t looking for him. Of course, they didn’t expect to see him. They were sad and confused. They were not looking through the world with eyes that wanted to see Jesus, and so they weren’t looking for him.
But we have the whole, complete story. We know that Jesus giving up his spirit, and the side being pierced with a spear, and his dead body being taken down and put in a tomb, is not the end of the story. We know – we know – that Jesus is alive. So why aren’t we looking for Him? Why don’t we see Him?
Maybe we do. Sometimes we do. But there are days when we’re so occupied with our own lists of what we need to do that we miss out on the chance to encounter the risen Christ. How do we encounter the risen Christ? Where might we encounter the risen Christ? And when we do, how will we know that we have seen Christ? Maybe we’re forgetting to look for Him in the first place.
Six or seven years ago, at a little before 8 a.m., in a busy central station of the Washington Metro subway line, one of those street musicians set up. You see them in subway stations in big cities. He was wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and a ball cap, and he opened his violin case, tossed a little money in like a hint to people, and he started playing.
He happened to be playing on a three hundred-year-old Stradivarius violin, and he happened to be playing some of the most beautiful and difficult music ever written. A few nights before, he played to a sold-out crowd at Kennedy Center, where the cheap seats cost $100. His name was Joshua Bell. He is considered among the top several violinists in the world.
And for the thousand or so commuters who passed through that Metro station on a weekday morning, if they’d wanted to, they could have gotten a gorgeous, absolutely free Joshua Bell concert. For forty-five minutes, he gave a full-out performance of Bach and Schubert and other musical heavyweights.
Well, nothing. One or two people out of the thousand and seventeen who crossed his path paused just for a second, glanced at the thing that was very slightly different about their morning commute, and kept going. Enough people tossed in a little money that he made about $32. One person recognized him as Joshua Bell, but didn’t have time to stop, she said. One person, who had studied classical violin as a teen, recognized how extraordinarily skilled the violinist was, and marveled at the music being made, but didn’t place the man as Joshua Bell – maybe because he was wearing a T-shirt and standing by a wall in a subway station.
Maybe that’s our excuse, too. Maybe we so often miss seeing Christ because outside of church activities, we’re not really expecting to see Him. In truth, Christ is all around us, all the time, and whenever I hear this story from the gospels, my first reaction is embarrassment, because the story reminds me that more often than not I am failing to look for Christ. The living Christ comes to us in church, on Sundays, in the bread and wine. And, the living Christ comes to us on Mondays, in the grocery store, on Thursdays, in the office building, on Tuesday evenings, at home. Every time we cross paths with another person, the living Christ waits to be with us –
When the two men got to the end of that road with Jesus, they sat at a table with him. They still didn’t see. They didn’t see until they acted in the name of the living Christ for another person. They invited him to share their home and their food. And he took bread, and broke it, and gave it to them. And finally it became too much to ignore. They had to see it. The man Jesus became the living Christ for them – when they acted as Christ to Him.
They went from that place and they told everyone what they saw. They went to the disciples who had just had their own experience of seeing Jesus. And together they shared the news that he was back.
The church is the same way. We come here week after week, sharing the news that Jesus is with us. We strengthen one another when we look around and really see what is happening around us. We strengthen the church when we look around not with eyes that are looking for a street musician, but for Jesus. When we look at the world through Jesus-eyes, we find that we cannot help but see Him all around us. We find that every time we encounter another person, we have encountered the living Christ in that person.
Kathleen Norris is a poet who lives and writes in a rural area in South Dakota. She is also a lay member of a Benedictine monastery, and often goes on retreat there, living and praying with the monks and nuns. One of those times, she was assisting with worship, and the nun who was instructing her walked her through the service. “Together we bow to the altar, to the presence of Christ at the altar,” the nun said. “And then we turn and bow to our partner, to the Christ that is within that person.”
The living Christ is all around us – if we will only see Him. As we walk on our Emmaus roads may we dare to turn to those who are walking beside us and see the light of Christ that is in them. Amen.