Greatness in Our Midst

I spent Saturday on the water at Lake Natomas, in Sacramento County, practicing my paddling skills.  It was part of a “Paddlefest” hosted by a nearby retail store, so it was a great opportunity to try out lots of different kayaks and paddles. I was hooked up with a man, early 40s, and each time I turned in a boat to try another, he was there to help me with my next selection. During one of our exchanges I asked him about paddling technique. He immediately sat down on the bow of the kayak, facing me, and gave me 15 minutes worth of tips.

Finally I met up with some friends, part of a kayaking club I belong to. “Do you know who that was?” one of the women in the club asked as soon as I sat down. Probably just an employee of the store, I responded. “That was Sean Morley. He holds multiple world records for circumnavigating the British Isles. People pay big bucks to have him teach them paddling technique.”

Wow, I was in the presence of greatness and didn’t even know it.

Driving home, the occasion brought to mind a story that has always intrigued me, from Luke 24. Two men were traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus soon after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, when they met up with a stranger who apparently had no knowledge of what had just happened in Jerusalem. “What things?” the stranger asked them.

“The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (vss. 19-21).

The men went on to explain how some female disciples of Jesus had gone to the grave where he had been lain, but found it empty. The men were baffled, caught between their lack of comprehension of everything Jesus had been trying to teach them (the men were part of the broader group of Jesus’ followers), and the reality of a resurrection they could not conceive of.

After listening to the two men speak, the stranger exploded with words of authority. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” The stranger traveled with the men all the way into Emmaus, where they all sat down to a meal. There, the stranger took bread, blessed it, broke it, and served them. It was not until that moment that the men recognized the stranger for who he was, none other than the crucified and risen Son of God.

What has always amazed me about this story is that the men – who had spent time with the pre-crucified Jesus – did not recognize Him. Both Mark and Luke indicate Jesus’ identity was somehow hidden from them. What’s probably more important, however, is their response once they were allowed to see Him for who He really was. Their hearts burning within their chests (vs. 32), they immediately ran back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples that they had just experienced the Risen Christ.

A truth emerges from this story, that shakes me down to my toes. We should be expectantly LOOKING for greatness. Did not Jesus hold true to His word while on earth? Can we not still trust Him to fulfill everything He promised? Of the immensity and power of the God whom we profess to believe and follow, essayist Annie Dillard writes:

“Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as
I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the
floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It
is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing
crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash
us to our pews.”

Let’s look for Greatness in our midst, shall we? And clamp down our crash helmets while we’re at it, because when we meet the Almighty head-on, there’s no telling what might happen.

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