In assembly yesterday I talked about how we can learn from Israeli grandmothers and treat others how we would wish to be treated. The Golden Rule is an ethical universal but so very difficult to do.
I want to take this idea further. Listen to this strange tale from the New Testament (Luke 24: 13-16):
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
For Christians, the resurrection of Jesus is a foundational story. But there is something disturbing in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. If Jesus was raised from the dead, why did he no longer look like Jesus? Why did the disciples not recognise him? (The idea that they were prevented from recognising him looks like a rather awkward attempt to gloss over the problem.) The account leaves Christianity open to a most worrying accusation: maybe the man didn’t look like Jesus because he wasn’t Jesus. Maybe he was a decoy and the resurrection is a fraud.
If any of you grow up to be New Testament scholars you will learn the term “Criterion of Embarrassment.” Simply put, it is used to suggest that the more a story runs counter to the message of the narrative, the more likely it is to be true. If you were inventing the story of Jesus’ resurrection, you would not want to subvert your efforts by including difficult, embarrassing details. Thus the tale of Jesus’ changed appearance is likely to be true because you wouldn’t include it otherwise.
Now, if Jesus had the power to raise himself from the dead, surely he had the power to choose the appearance of his resurrected body. Why, then, did he look different? (Different enough that Mary Magdalene also didn’t recognise him.) The answer may lie in an earlier parable in which Jesus teaches that if we are to serve him we must treat others as if they were him. Jesus deliberately disguises himself as the Everyman so that we learn that he is every man, or could be.
It’s even more radical than that: Jesus is the executed criminal and thus equally the murderer, the thief, the terrorist. If you can love them as you love Jesus — and you cannot tell from their appearance that they are not, in fact Jesus — then you become what Jesus wants you to become: changed. If you’re a Christian, try it. If not, then swap Jesus with someone else you love and admire and would never dream of treating shoddily and apply it to both your friends and enemies. Even the guy who steals your toothpaste.
This video (at 6:20, especially from 8:20) demonstrates what I mean:
Given at boarders’ chapel at Loughborough Grammar School on 22.ix.10