Consorting with Aliens

Article excerpt

Sunday, April 10 Luke 24:13-35; 1 Peter 1:17-23

A FUNNY THING happened to a pastor friend of mine. His congregation was baptizing a family in a river that ran not far from the Hispanic church that he served. As the newly baptized members came out of the water he handed them their baptismal certificates. Afterwards, in true Latino fashion, they celebrated a fiesta. Since the whole event occurred outdoors, the ritual and celebration were open for all to see--including a couple of men recently arrived from Mexico. The next day these men showed up at my friend's church asking if this was the church where they "fixed papers." These men naively mistook the baptismal certificates for official government papers that would legalize their status in this country. In short, they thought that the people getting baptized were receiving green cards.

The gospel stories read in the church during the 40 days between Easter and Ascension also treat cases of misrecognition. At the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene mistakenly thinks that Jesus is a gardener. While on a fishing trip, Peter and the rest of the disciples see a man walking by the shore but do not immediately know that he is the Lord. Most famously, Thomas refuses to believe until he sees and touches the wounds. All in all the 40 days make us reflect on both the possibility and difficulties of knowing Jesus.

The story of the walk to Emmaus is no different. The story is well known and has been variously used to ignite a church renewal movement by the same name, to underline the connection between preaching and the Lord's Supper, and to uphold the validity of a christo-logical reading of the Old Testament. Yet what most strikes me ill this passage is the use of the Greek word paroikos, which can be variously translated as stranger, exile or 'alien. On the walk to Emmaus, Jesus is first recognized as an alien.

"Alien" is an ugly word. It means not only that are you an unknown (a stranger) but that you are different and hence do not really be long. I remember telling some of my church members (who had walked across a desert or swum a river to enter this country) that English speakers called people like them "illegal aliens," to which one member responded: "Like in Independence Day?"

On the way to Emmaus those sad, deflated disciples mistook their Lord for an alien. How did they' make such a mistake? Was it because he appeared to be ignorant of current events and so betrayed himself as an outsider? Was it that Jesus' Galilean accent betrayed him as Peter; did in the courtyard? Who knows?

Now, of course, we know that misrecognition is essential to the structure of the resurrection narrative; the playful game of "hide and seek" the Lord plays with his disciples is not accidental but pedagogic. …