There is a cute joke about a guy, let’s call him George for no particular reason, who is a real born again type Christian. The news on the television announces that the dam is about to break and the whole valley is about to be flooded. All his neighbors are getting ready to evacuate, but old George just sits on his porch in his rocking chair and does nothing.
“You better get packed and get going”, George, his neighbors all say.
But George just sits there. “Nope, the Lord is going to come and save me, I know. I prayed about it.”
The neighbors all do their best to convince him but it is of no use. George won’t listen. So one by one the neighbors all pack up and get going. But George just stays put.
Well, pretty soon, the dam busts wide open and the water rushes forth. George sees the water coming and moves to the second floor of us, never ceasing his prayers. Soon, the water is even up to the second floor, so George moves to the roof to await the Lord’s rescue.
The water is still rising. Some neighbors come by in a rowboat and call to George to come aboard and save himself. But George just tells them that he has perfect faith that the Lord is going to come and save him. So the guys in the boat go on their way. Meanwhile the water is still rising. Soon it is up to the roof.
George is now on the very top of his house now, seated on the point of his roof. A helicopter hovers overhead and a national guardsmen calls to him grab hold of the line and let them pull him up to safety. But George says that he has prayed about it and he has faith that the Lord is going to save him. No matter how much they try to reason with him, George refuses to take hold of the line. So, realizing they couldn’t change his mind, the helicopter flies off, leaving George on the roof.
Eventually, the water continues to rise and George finds himself in treading water in the floodwaters, still trusting that the Lord is going to save him. He stays afloat as long as he can, but the water is cold, and in a few hours he sinks below the surface and drowns. (Really funny, so far, huh?)
George finds himself at the Pearly Gates, awaiting entrance into Heaven. When he approaches Saint Peter, he is royally pissed off, and begins to shout at Saint Peter, “Hey! I prayed and prayed for the Lord to save me! Even as the water was rising, I kept on praying! And you guys didn’t do squat! What the hell is up with that?! Why did you let me drown?!”
Saint Peter simply looks down at his clip board and replies, “Well, George, it says here we SENT you a boat and a helicopter…”
I wonder how often that really happens. You know, the Muslims have a tradition that angels of God come to earth in disguise and interact with us to see how we will treat them. So, in their tradition, you never know if that person with whom you are talking is just another idiot, or an angel of the Lord. This serves to help keep people good. You just never know. It is interesting to me that in my own life there have been times when I’ve been in a jam when help as arrived just in the nick of time and from some place unexpected.
In the gospel of Luke there is a story about two of those followers of Jesus who were walking on the road to Emmaus right after his death and his supposed resurrection, of which these two were unaware.
“Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
He asked them, "What are you discussing as you walk along?"
They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?”
And he replied to them, "What sort of things?"
They said to him, "The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see."
And he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"
According to the story, Jesus continues to walk with these two guys and explains the whole thing to them, starting with Moses and the prophets. When they finally reach the village, they invite Jesus, whom they still do not recognize, to dine with them. And when they sit down to table, Jesus breaks the bread and says the blessing and as he hands them the bread, suddenly their eyes are opened and they recognize Jesus for who he is. And as soon as they recognize him, he vanishes from sight. Now ain’t that a bitch? Just as you realize you’re having dinner with the son of God, he goes and vanishes, just when you were about to ask him about why God made mosquitoes or some other weighty matter. It’s got to be frustrating as hell.
Now you can take the story as it is. You can believe that these gospels are true accounts of the life of Jesus. There’s no particular reason to DISbelieve them, other than that they were written a long time after Jesus lived by people who were on a mission to convince the world that Jesus was the son of God.
Seriously, I have no reason to think that the stories didn’t happen fairly closely to the way described in the text. Certainly, if I were one of his original followers I wouldn’t have written the story to make me look so stupid and faithless all the time. I’d have made up something better, made Jesus a little more glorious and mighty.
Still, even if you don’t believe them, they’re nice stories. And they have a lesson to teach. As I say, the Bible isn’t a book of facts; it’s a book of truth. And there is truth in this story. How many times are we so concerned with the things going on around us, with our own problems, that we fail to see the hand of God at work all around us? This isn’t the only story in which, after his resurrection, that Jesus appears to his followers, and they fail to recognize him, until some crucial moment in the story, when something amazing happens. Maybe we all need to be aware of God’s amazing creation all around us.
We want to see mighty miracles, people being cured of horrible diseases, but we fail to see the miracle in the renewal of life in a sleeping infant. We look for the water changing into wine and fail to see the majesty of the Milky Way. Moreover, we fail to see that each and every person we see and meet is a miracle of God. You are a miracle of God. You are one of God’s greatest miracles. And just like that stranger on the road to Emmaus, everybody has something to teach us, if we are open to the teaching. And you have much to offer those around you. You are not the least in the kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus came out of the wilderness telling us to change our way of thinking, our way of looking at things. And throughout his ministry he reminds us that we are the hands of God. That is our mission. That is how we connect to God. That is how we walk in harmony, through love and service to others. Jesus taught us to look inside ourselves and outside ourselves, because life goes on within you and without you (thanks, George). That’s the message. It isn’t a message to straighten up and fly right. It isn’t a message of hate. It isn’t a message of prosperity. Jesus never promises that God is going to make us rich. He promises God will give us all we need. And all we need is love (thanks, John).
Look around you. It could be that the person next to you is an angel of the Lord, just as the Muslims say. It could be that the lesson you need most may come from the least likely source. So the next time you feel like you’re in over your head, and the water is rising, go ahead and get in the boat. It was sent just for you.