One of the most basic – and yet for me, personally, one of the most confounding – aspects of Christian faith involves what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’ve always been confused by Christians who talk about their personal relationship with Jesus with total certainty, as if it was as obvious as their personal relationship with their spouse. To me, it hasn’t been obvious what it means to have a relationship with a Being I can’t directly perceive.
In light of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about a story that appears in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:13-35). For context, this occurs after Jesus was said to have been resurrected.
“… two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them, but they were kept from recognizing him.
He asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, ‘Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do you not know the things that have happened here in these days?’
‘What things?,’ he asked.”
They then proceeded to discuss Jesus, particularly his death and rumors of his resurrection. They talked about the Scriptures.
After this discussion, “as they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.
Later in the story, the two friends walking to Emmaus recognize Jesus (after which Jesus mysteriously disappears, raising other questions). But, at this point, the two friends don’t recognize him.
So, here’s my question: Even though they didn’t recognize him, were they in relationship with Jesus?
It would seem to me the only fair answer must be “yes.”
In the book, “The Meaning of Jesus,” Marcus Borg reflects on this and comments:
“Christians throughout the centuries have continued to experience Jesus as a living spiritual reality, a figure of the present, not simply a memory from the past. These experiences (then and now) have taken a variety of forms. They include dramatic forms such as visions and mystical experiences, and less dramatic forms such as a sense of the presence of Jesus – whether in prayer, worship, or the eucharist, in other people, or in the dailiness of our lives.”
Maybe my problem understanding what it means to have a relationship with Jesus is rooted in my struggles with those who seem so sure they’re in a relationship with Jesus while at the same time acting in ways I can’t imagine Jesus would support. I don’t understand their certainty, much less their actions. This, then, raises other questions, such as when individuals falsely believe they’re in relationship with Jesus when, in fact, they may simply be in relationship with themselves. As I’ve written previously, this may be all too common.
But, the flip side of this is what most strikes me here. Like the friends on the road to Emmaus, maybe I’ve been in relationship with Jesus all along. And, I just didn’t recognize it.
Maybe God does work in mysterious ways.