Imagine spending your whole life believing some things to be true. Having heard stories as you grew up, you developed a sense of certainty about the world. The ideas and frameworks passed down through generations shaped a particular set of values and formed your worldview. For some, this is not difficult to imagine. Many are able to recognize the ways their family has influenced their perception of the world. However, as you mature and pass from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood, your worldview will shift and adapt. The truth is that you’ll likely experience stunted growth unless you are willing to be surprised.
This is the position I imagine the disciples were in when they encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They had heard all the stories, listened to religious leaders share passages memorized from the Scriptures, and grew up with a certain expectation of the Messiah and his kingdom. However, it wasn’t until the Messiah himself interpreted what they had heard many times before that they finally began to grasp the true nature of his kingdom.
As someone living outside my home culture, I can quickly identify with the disciples’ experience. I spent the formative years of my life within Canadian culture, adopting values and developing an understanding of the world through the lens of this particular environment. It wasn’t until I left the borders of the place I once called home that my worldview was challenged. This isn’t to say that my Canadian worldview was wrong or inherently flawed. Still, through surprising, cross-cultural encounters, I increased my capacity to understand the nature of the world. When we have spent many years believing something to be true, we can, often without realizing it, create boundaries and draw lines around what is and isn’t possible. The disciples thought they knew the type of Messiah they could expect. However, even when they walked right next to the resurrected Jesus, they failed to recognize the fullness of what they had been taught.
It’s easy to point our fingers in judgement and disbelief many years after this encounter. How could they not see it? How could they miss the signs? But I wonder how often we are kept from perceiving the holy in our lives because of the lines we have drawn. The parameters we create can falsely constrain how we understand our faith and who Christ is. We put the kingdom in a box and assume it will appear exactly the way we have imagined it, failing to recognize its expressions in the unexpected. I imagine the kingdom of God is far greater than anything our minds could fathom. Are will willing to be surprised by the unexpected nature of the kingdom?
In Luke 24, it says that “[the disciple’s] eyes were kept from recognizing [Jesus]” (v. 6 NRSV). I wonder if a narrow vision of the kingdom prevented them from seeing who was walking next to them. Even as Jesus began to interpret the Scriptures, they still failed to grasp the whole picture. It wasn’t until the breaking of the bread that they were able to recognize that they were in the presence of Christ. As we long for Christ and the coming of his kingdom, perhaps our limited vision has kept us from seeing the ways it is already being established. Perhaps the boxes we have created have not provided space to encounter that which can be seen only through the breaking of bread. Maybe it’s in the sharing of a meal, the wiping of spaghetti sauce off our face, the slight embarrassment after failing to hold in a belch—in the sharing of these seemingly unholy moments that we truly encounter the divine.
We don’t need to look far to recognize that which isn’t of the kingdom in our world. We are overwhelmed with headlines which provoke a collective cry, “How long, O Lord?” But I wonder if, even in the midst of tragedy and confusion, Christ is closer than we think. If we are willing to be surprised, to expand our understanding of who Christ is and what his kingdom entails, perhaps we will find these in unexpected places. I see Christ in a Mazahua family when a smile invades a mother’s face as her 10-year-old shares her dreams to become a doctor, lawyer, or perhaps a robot. I see Christ in the swaying trees of his creation, a reminder to pause and listen. I see Christ in my Wixaritari sisters and brothers as they sing words I don’t understand but express a joy which is universally understood. Christ’s kingdom is far more all-encompassing than I could ever imagine. I invite you to look beyond the lines that have been drawn and to wonder how you might be surprised by the nature of the kingdom.
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