Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising him…When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight.
LUKE 24:15–16, 30–31
Saul’s encounter with Jesus famously knocked him to the ground and left him temporarily blind. Things could not be more different for the Emmaus travellers: Jesus walked alongside them, and they didn’t even know who they were talking to.
The Saul story matches the cold-contact evangelism strategy I learned in campus ministry (in theory – I failed to match what Jesus does). There is a distinct before-and-after. Jesus becomes an undeniable reality and a life trajectory is changed.
Of course, Jesus can and will use whatever approach he pleases. It’s just that, for those of us bedded into long-term relationships with the colleagues, neighbours, teammates and friends on our frontlines, our conversational pace is more Emmaus-like: a patient trudge.
That’s cool with Jesus.
He walks and talks with the Emmaus travellers at the speed they are already going: three miles an hour. A pace not just for feet, but for hearts and minds. Jesus doesn’t hurry them on. He doesn’t interrupt with the point he wants them to hear. He listens attentively, as they share their confusion and disappointment.
In the end, it’s the effect of Jesus’ presence as he breaks bread with them – not principally his words – that will ignite their cognition.
In one sense, we are already present on our frontlines. God has put us in the places he would have us for now, and we want to be a part of his eternal purposes in our specific place and time. But what would it look like for our presence to have a Jesus-like effect?
If the opposite of presence is absence, we do well to rid ourselves of everything that calls our attention to be anywhere other than with the person in front of us. Social scientist Sherry Turkle writes that ‘relationships deepen not because we necessarily say anything in particular but because we are invested enough to show up for another conversation… [and] it’s hard to sustain those relationships if you are on your phone.’
So, with phones – or whatever pulls us away from being fully present right now – firmly out of sight and reach, we show up in the sacred arena that is the life of another. We give the gift of our attention. We listen, to synchronise our pace, so we can feel and think with them, not for them.
If conversations on our frontlines look less Road to Damascus and more Road to Emmaus, then let’s model the presence of Jesus as we trudge patiently on.
Head of Innovation, LICC
Which conversation today can you bring Jesus-like presence into? Join the conversation below.