Many of us will be familiar with the tortuous roads which wind up and down the hillsides in the mountainous countries where much of our mission work takes place. We seem to spend a lot of time zigzagging up and down to get relatively short distances, often going in completely the wrong direction. Once when in Nepal I took several hours to walk little more than a mile (on the map) going down a precipitous route into a gorge, and slogging wearily up the other side to a village which was within sight of the place I had set out from.
Changing the metaphor this week from rail to road, this is an image of the lives some of us are having to lead right now. Appearing to go in the wrong direction, taking the long way round, burdened by our heavy load, instead of finding a cute Alpine cable car to take us across the valley to where we want to be. In our busy, purpose-driven lives, we focus on the achievement, the goal, or the destination and feel frustrated. Yet we often lose sight of the fact that the journey has a value of its own. Like many of us who travel a lot, we don’t enjoy the travelling so much as the arriving, yet the journey itself has much to teach us.
In the Bible, roads feature a lot. People are often travelling and we find that the stony, winding tracks of ancient Israel were places of encounter with prophets, wild animals, angels, armies, muggers, or estranged family. Battles, funerals and processions took place. Roads are places of revelation and teaching. Many of Jesus’ recorded conversations took place as they were walking somewhere. Just the phrase “the road to…” can be followed by Emmaus, Damascus, Jericho or Azotus for widely differing experiences.
At the moment, those of us who can’t get back to our designated field may feel rather like the traveller on the road to Jericho: beaten, confused, frightened, or vulnerable. Not unlike the two discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus, and we know what experience enthused them so much that they went seven miles back to Jerusalem in the dark. They met Jesus on the road.
Have you met Jesus on your particular road? What is Jesus explaining to you that you didn’t understand? What revelation do you have that can transform your mourning into joy? And if you can’t answer those questions, what time have you made to listen to Jesus, even as you continue walking?
One of my favourite road events concerns a widow about to bury her only son (Luke 7:11-17). As the funeral cortege leaves the village on its way to the graveyard, it meets a procession coming the other way. It’s Jesus and his followers. They, no doubt, are a happy crowd, telling stories of the amazing teaching and healing they have received. For a moment both crowds stop, unable to pass each other without breaking formation. An awkward quietness falls over the disciples, who shuffle to the side of the road. Then Jesus steps forward, and with one sentence transforms the situation. Joy triumphs over grief. Life over death. One journey is no longer necessary, and the procession suddenly has a lot more disciples as they flock joyfully back into the village together.
How is Jesus transforming your journey?