The ladies of the Gathering at Fellowship North have begun our new Bible study, and I have to tell you - I am loving the concept behind this one. It's a book. An actual, real, read-it-through, hardback book called The Organic God by Margaret Feinberg. Now, I got nothing against Beth Moore or Kay Arthur or Priscilla Shirer - love 'em as much as the next woman - but this book study is how I operate. I read. I think. I write. I learn. It's my process, and I get to spend the next several weeks walking through it with some of the dearest women I know.
I'll try to share my thoughts here each week (it's part of my process, after all), so with no further ado...
We've begun with the first three chapters, and they are: luminescence, an organic appetite, and bighearted. The first chapter, luminescence, is really more a preface...okay, it is a preface. But I did about 15 reflection questions on it, so I get to call it a chapter. At the end of the next chapter, she asks us to read John 20 and Luke 24, the passages where Jesus appeared to Mary and Cleopas (+ one), respectively, after His resurrection. She asks her readers to consider why all three of these individuals had a hard time recognizing Jesus.
The perspectives that the women in my group brought to the table last night were very interesting. That's one thing that I love about an intimate group study...we really have the chance to sharpen one another, even if just by explaining our own insights into the Word. Julie said that perhaps Mary and the travelers didn't recognize Jesus because He didn't want them to, wasn't ready to reveal Himself yet. Marty suggested that their recognition of Jesus was proportionate to their motivation in finding Him. Bev's eyes lit up as she recounted how magical she finds the story of the road to Emmaus, and she pointed out how Cleopas and his companion were caught in despair over everything that had happened in the previous week and unable to recognize Jesus for their own grief.
My opinion on Mary and the travelers' inability to see Jesus initially is fairly straightforward, but as I began to unpack it and realize its application in my life, an intricate urge toward faith and awareness picked up where the simplicity left off. I believe that Mary, Cleopas and Cleopas' companion failed to recognize Jesus because he was neither who nor what they were expecting in those moments. Grief-stricken, Mary was expecting to find Jesus' body and return Him to the tomb. Thinking He's the gardener, she implores Him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." I think this is where Jesus' heart may have broken a little. Mary cannot have been a very large woman, and here she is, wanting to find Jesus' body so desperately that she's willing to carry it back to the tomb herself. I can almost hear the compassion as He says her name. And instantly, she recognizes Him. I've always loved that it only takes Jesus saying Mary's name for her eyes to be opened.
In Luke, we read about two travelers on the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion (possibly his wife). I think it's significant that Cleopas and friend are leaving Jerusalem, that it symbolizes resignation and a loss of hope. Now, I'm not judgin'. I've often wondered how I would have reacted in those days, and I most likely would've been about a mile ahead of them on the way home, crying my eyes out and drowning in a sea of confusion and disappointment. But Jesus shows up. He meets their grief and bewilderment head on, taking them back to the beginning and explaining the prophecy that revealed just how much of a tragedy this all was not. At best, they recognize that He's special, but it's not until they sit down to eat with Him, and He breaks bread, that their eyes are opened. Whether it was the act of Jesus breaking bread that they recognized or the fact that He chose to open their eyes in that moment is not clear to me. Regardless, they recognize Him, it all falls into place, and they immediately rush (uphill) several miles back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples what they've seen.
So what do I do with all of this today? Quite simply, I realize how often my expectations cost me an encounter with Jesus. When I pray for help, I tend to have specific ideas on how that should be provided. How many times have I missed His comforting presence because it didn't arrive in the shiny little package I thought I'd ordered?
By the same token, how willing am I to believe that God can show up in magnificent ways that are not, at first, easily believable? It was easier to believe that Jesus' death had been a loss than to believe that He had risen from the dead, even for people who had seen Him perform that miracle for another. I tend to fall back on convenient expectations, not realizing that I've set the bar too low by limiting what God can do to how much I can anticipate.
Jesus had told His followers that He would be crucified and rise from the dead on the third day. Still, they had trouble believing it when they saw it, perhaps because their hearts didn't fully believe it when they heard it. What promises has God made that my heart has not fully believed? And how often am I failing to recognize Him because my eyes are clouded by my own uninformed grief? And so...
I pray that the eyes of my heart may be enlightened, that I may know the hope to which He has called us, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people...(Eph 1:18)