Based on Acts 3:12-19, 1John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48
I have to admit that growing up I was a huge comic book fan – especially the super hero genre. My favorite hero was Spider Man, but the X-Men were a close second. The idea of having special powers that were unknown to most people was exciting for a small, relatively shy kid from Minnesota. Spider Man caught my attention because Peter Parker was a science guy (like me) who was shy as well. A bite by a super-charged spider (I’d had spider bites in my life) changes everything and he becomes a force to combat all the comic book bad guys that Stan Lee and company could dream up. I could see how this could possibly happen to me, and so I was hooked by the story. He operated inside a great looking costume and no one (except his girlfriend) ever knew his true identity – he went around incognito…unknown.
This was in contradistinction to the big super hero – Superman, who went from mild mannered Clark Kent, reporter for the local newspaper, who with the help of a phone booth (adults can explain that concept to those too young to know what a phone booth was) became Superman. No mask hid his face from the public, yet, even the people that worked with him closely at the paper (e.g., Lois Lane) couldn’t figure out his identity? That one I could never figure out…was it the cowlick of hair in the middle of his forehead that truly hid Superman’s identity; were the people surrounding him just that oblivious – or did they just not look closely enough to discern?
I got thinking about being “incognito” when I was reading our scriptures for today. It seems to be a theme running through all of them. First of all, let us go to God to ask God to open our hearts and minds that Jesus might be truly seen…
The next few weeks of the Lectionary do not contain a Torah Bible reading. In its place, we pick up with a reading from the “Book of the Acts of the Apostles” – the book that describes the movement of the Holy Spirit and the dissemination of the gospel to the Gentiles (thus, the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ). I want to start our study of this text earlier in Chapter 3 than the twelfth verse…in fact, I want to share with you verses 3 through 8. To set the stage, Peter and John are going to Temple to pray and they come upon a nameless lame beggar man. Hear now these words…
This is where we pick up the scripture for today which is all well and good and tells the story again of how Jesus was killed by the fickle people of Jerusalem. A good story for Eastertide, but the real story (for today, I believe) is back in verses four through eight. I want to specifically focus in on the interaction of the three players. Peter and John “looked intently” at the lame beggar – the beggar “fixed his attention on them” and healing occurred in the name of Jesus. They saw each other as the three of them truly were and healing was made possible through the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. Once again, the passersby were amazed and filled with wonder at how such a thing could have happened to one of them.
The letter of 1 John goes on this week to explain that children of God we all are when we recognize who Jesus is in our lives. Verse five says, “…You know that he was REVEALED to take away sins,…”; and verse six goes on to clarify that, “…No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either SEEN him or KNOWN him….” Verse two brings this to a fine point saying, “…what we will be has not been revealed. What we do know is this: when He is REVEALED we will be like Him, for we will SEE him as he is. No more is Jesus an unknown entity for those who are called “children of God”. In fact, not only do we see Him and know Him for who he is, but we ourselves are known and our true selves in Jesus is then made known to us.
The Gospel reading today is from the very end of Luke. The encounter at Emmaus has just occurred, but Jesus had not yet made His resurrected-self known to the Disciples. In this text, we have that which was the “Thomas” text from last week with a twist. Not only does Jesus appear in the flesh blessing them with His peace, but he also eats a piece of fish in front of them. Notice how the reading starts at verse 36, “…While they were still talking about this…” (meaning the encounter on the Emmaus road with Jesus) He came among them – yet they did not know it was Jesus. They were just talking about how He had appeared – and yet when He stood among them they were “startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost….” Jesus, for all intents and purposes, was standing among them but was still incognito – unknown. In verse 45 it says that “…he opened their minds to understand the scriptures…” It wasn’t until this happened (we can assume) that the Disciples knew who he was – in a somewhat similar fashion to the Emmaus story.
It is clear from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry that most people he interacted with did not in fact know his true identity as the Son of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even His Disciples, who spent a lot of time walking around and seeing Jesus do his thing – even they had to have their minds opened before they truly got it. In fact, they never got it while he was alive, it was only after he was resurrected that the proverbial light bulb went on. Jesus lived his whole life with the people who were closest to him incognito.
It should be no surprise then that we in our day and age, 2000 years removed from his time and place should have difficulty getting our minds around who Jesus not only was, but who Jesus is in our lives and in our world. This is the tension for all true disciples of Jesus. It is not enough to be baptized into the Body of Christ. One has to devote oneself to a life-long spiritual journey of self-discovery that at its deepest depths contains the pure and wonderful love of God. Practicing the spiritual disciplines of reading and discerning scripture, praying, fasting, sharing in Holy Communion, engaging in works of mercy – all of these lead to a deeper understanding of who I am in Jesus and who Jesus is for me. However, I have also found that this spiritual journey has made me more difficult to understand for those who have known me over time. My spiritual self has been unknown to them, and as it has taken over my life, they don’t seem to recognize me…I am now incognito.
I’ve begun to come to terms with this reality. The scripture from 1 John in verse one says, “…The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him….” You see the more we reflect the life and mannerisms of Jesus, the more camouflaged we become to the world. We become something unrecognizable to the world of sin and injustice and acquisition. It just doesn’t understand how we can choose to be loving, humble, kind, selfless and charitable. The world doesn’t recognize us when we don the clothing of Christ, because it doesn’t fit the style and flash that is coveted by the world. It is the simple garb of a servant – not the royal robes of a worldly king or celebrity.
The world did not know Jesus, and more and more of our world does not know or see him either. It does not know Him because we have become too complacent inside our walls – talking our church talk and gathering in closed groups with like-minded “believers”. We ourselves have become incognito. How many of your co-workers or associates know that you attend church more Sundays than not? How many of the people who you interact with see in you the model of the Prince of Peace, the suffering servant, the Risen Lord? Our job is to continue to grow in Christ-likeness. Hear again the scripture from 1 John 3:2, “…Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we are to be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is….” These words are true – we are already children of the Most High God who are on their way to perfection in Jesus. Let us live into this world, cloaked in his great love and mission to make disciples of the whole world, until he comes again and is no longer hidden from the eyes of those who truly believe. And all God’s people said, Amen!