Nobody is a nobody to Jesus Christ
(listening like you are a somebody in his eyes)
A sermon preached on Luke 24:13-35 by Pastor Jonathan Werre at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on April 26, 2020.
It was the most important day of the century. No, that’s an understatement. It was the most important day of the millennium. No, that’s not quite right, either. To be entirely accurate, it was the most important day in the history of the world. More important than 9-11. More important than Pearl Harbor. More important than July 4, 1776.
It was, hands down, the most important day in the history of our world. And so it was the kind of day that demanded that important people meet with other important people and make important decisions about important things.
And that’s what makes this most important of all important days so odd. Because on this supremely important day, otherwise known as the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he spent a good chunk of it with two nobodies. Who, on top of it all, were rather poor listeners. And there’s a lesson for us in that.
These two nobodies are known as Cleopas…and the other guy (we don’t even know the other guy’s name). Cleopas and The Other Guy, the two Emmaus disciples (so-called because they were walking to the town of Emmaus). This is what we know about them: nothing.
Well, almost nothing. There are three things we can figure out about them. 1) They were part of Jesus’ group of followers (this we know from what they say and from the fact that that when they run back to Jerusalem, they know where the 12 disciples are hiding)—but they were not part of the 12 Disciples, not part of the “important people.” 2) It appears that they were leakers, undependable, dare we say not even “not very good Christians”—after all, it’s Easter Sunday, reports have already come in that Jesus is alive, and these two leave? Shouldn’t they have at least hung around long enough to see if it was true? 3) They were not very good listeners to the sermons and Bible classes that Jesus had. They call Jesus, “a prophet.” “’About Jesus of Nazareth, ‘they replied, ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed.’” Calling Jesus “a prophet” would be like calling the Covid-19 pandemic a “local inconvenience.” After all of those sermons and Bible classes, not to mention the miracles Jesus did–and the best they can come up with is “He was a prophet”? This was not lost on Jesus. And he was none too happy about it. He cuts them with his words, “How foolish you are (when God calls you foolish, that is not good) and slow of heart (being accused of being slow is never a good thing) to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”
But, and this is very important to notice—he did not give up on them. He calls them out, just like he calls you out for sloppy listening to his Word—that’s what he’s doing with your unhappiness, your anxiousness, your confusion, your wanting to give up and throw in the towel. That’s God shouting at you, “Hey, repent of your sloppy listening to my Word! Why are you so unhappy, so anxious, so confused, so willing to give up? Because of sloppy listening! Because of your selective listening to my Word. Because of your forgetful and bored listening to my Word.” And in spite of my being a pastor for 30 years, he still has to call me out on the exact same sins. Just like he called out Cleopas and The Other Guy.
One of the saddest lines in the entire Bible is in this story. One of the saddest lines. “The chief priests and our rulers handed Jesus over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” “We had hoped.” For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’” (John Greenleaf Whittier) Sad words. Their sadness, their confusion, their loss of hope, all because of sloppy listening to the Word. Most of your sadness, like mine, and confusion and loss of hope is because our sloppy listening, too.
If you ask me what my favorite movie is, I will say, “Casablanca. Hands down, Casablanca.” Near the end, the main character, Humphrey Bogart, says to his true love whom he must part ways with, “Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
I love that movie but Humphrey Bogart was wrong. And this account of the Emmaus disciples proves it. In this account, we have two little people, Cleopas and The Other Guy. They are sad, confused, anxious. But who cares really? They are nobodies. Not even very good Christians.
But Jesus Christ does. Jesus Christ, the most important person in the world, comes to them, on the most important day of the world, and spends the entire afternoon with them. With them. Just the two of them. Cleopas and the Other Guy. The entire afternoon.
Because with Jesus, nobody’s a nobody. To him, each person, from the tiniest baby in the womb to the oldest grandparent in the world, each is a real person with feelings and hopes and dreams and sin—enough sin to drag him/her into hell, guaranteed. And that includes you and me.
So real, and so important, that he was willing to come to this earth via the second greatest mystery in the universe (as our Formula of Concord puts it), God becoming man in the womb of the virgin. So important that he was willing to do an incredibly difficult thing—live a perfect life for 33 years, and to credit that to us sinful human beings so that it looks to God like WE have lived a perfect life. So important that he was willing to suffer a terrible form of torture on the cross so that we would never ever have to pay for any of our sin, since he paid for it all. And by rising from the dead on Easter Sunday, the most important day of world history, he turned the grave from a 6 foot hole in the ground into a doorway, a doorway that opens to eternal life. And this he gives us freely, as a gift, by faith. And since faith is kept alive by the Spirit as we listen to his Word, well that explains why Jesus is so concerned that we keep slipping back to a sloppy listening to his Word. Given what’s at stake, that should be a concern to us as well.
Jesus treated Cleopas and The Other Guy, these two Emmaus disciples, like they were somebodies. He noticed their sadness, their confusion, their anxiety. It was important to him. So, he came to them. And this time, finally, they listened, not sloppily, not selectively, not forgetfully or with boredom. So instead of ending up confused or depressed, “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 recognized him and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’”
Did you catch what made them have such an emotional turn around? Not that they saw Jesus (though that was, I am sure, very cool), but that they heard his Word. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” This is also why Jesus did not let them recognize him until just before he disappeared—the important thing was to focus on his Word, not on seeing him. Just like today.
Because when you know that you are not a nobody, that changes the way you listen. When you are convinced by the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ thinks you are a somebody (and proved it by his death and resurrection), that changes the way you listen. When you are certain by the Holy Spirit that your feelings and hopes and dreams and forgiving your sin are real to him (as he proved by adopting you into his family at your baptism and washing away all your sin at your baptism and promising you heaven at your baptism), it changes the way you listen. The way you listen to his Word. And to each other. And instead of being a sloppy listener, a selective listener, a forgetful listener, a bored listener, you become a curious listener. In the book, “The Lost Art of Listening”, the author reveals what the most basic quality of being a good listener is. You know what the most basic quality of being a good listener is? Curiosity. Listening to learn.
That’s what happened with Cleopas and The Other Guy. Before, they had not been listening to learn, perhaps they felt they knew all this Bible stuff about the Messiah already. But on the afternoon of the most important day in the history of the world, they listened to learn. And by the power of the Spirit, it opened up their damp, stale hearts. And they felt a fresh burning like they hadn’t felt for who knows how long.
Because when you are convinced that to Jesus Christ you are a somebody (as his death and resurrection and your baptism proves), that changes the way you listen. To others, yes. But especially to him. Listening with curiosity, listening to learn, as he speaks to you in his Word and Sacraments. Amen.