Imagine that you’re grieving the death of a beloved friend, who died tragically young. Make matters worse: he died violently, suffering terribly. Probably the last thing you need as you mourn is a clueless stranger who must hear the whole story. “Go away so I can grieve!” seems the most natural response. One sentence in Luke describes this situation for the disciples: “They stood still, looking sad” (24:17). Paralyzed by grief, they can’t move ahead.
Now imagine the same scenario with one difference: what if the intruder were Jesus? Cleopas and his companion are stuck; they can’t see the cross as anything but failure. All their hopes for Jesus and his reign have dissolved. But somehow this stranger gets them talking and walking again.
They are so drawn to him that they ask, “Stay with us…” (24:29)
Perhaps that should be our prayer too, asking Jesus to be with us in whatever dark trench we find ourselves. If we too have lost hope, enthusiasm or even interest, it doesn’t seem to bother him. Somehow, he rekindles the dormant spark so it becomes an inner flame. He gladly joins a long walk and conversation, winding it up, typically, with a meal.
Many commentators have pointed out the irony of Jesus appearing in the guise of a stranger. To expand on this idea, we may find him where we least expect. Our usual sources of inspiration may disappoint. He seems to delight in surprising us, then nurturing us, however unlikely the circumstances.