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Fight, flight - or freedom

Detail: "The Emmaus Disciples" by Abraham Bloemaert, 1622.

Fight or flight. Those have long been the first visceral responses whenever human beings feel threatened.

Flight was the first response after Jesus’ gruesome death – by the men. In contrast, the women came to the tomb after the crucifixion, and they were the first ones to tell the story of the Resurrection. Not so with the men. They took off. The disciples fled to an upper room, locked down by their fear, because they figured they would be the next ones to be strung up on a cross.

And the risen Jesus meets them in their flight – breathes on them and shares his peace. And they are set free.

The following week’s Gospel describes two followers of Jesus who are fleeing to Emmaus, which is no place really, except for being seven miles from Jerusalem, a city and situation that had become intolerable. The risen Jesus meets them on the road (we know it’s Jesus, but they don’t) and they strike up a conversation, and in the seven-mile walk they develop a relationship. When they get to Emmaus they invite the stranger to be their guest for the night. As the story continues, they sit at table, Jesus takes the bread and when he breaks it they recognize him – and they are freed from their fear. And in the next instant he vanishes from their sight – and the followers go on to tell the story.

First century etiquette would dictate that the story shouldn’t have unfolded that way. When Jesus took up the bread, the followers could have said – and indeed should have said, “No friend, you’re our guest; we will say the blessing and break the bread.” Freedom happened when they allowed the guest to become the host.

In the Emmaus story, Jesus was eager to set his friends free. But they needed to take the first step – by allowing the guest to be the host. Which required some shifting of presumptions of how things should go – and letting go of some of their prejudices. Engaging in some listening rather than telling. If the followers of Jesus insisted on retaining their role as hosts, they would have missed out on the enormous gift that Jesus was waiting to give them.

Jesus met them on their journey. But his followers needed to abandon their flight mindset in order to be able to truly recognize him. They took a risk, and their lives were transformed.

Most people I talk to these days feel a vague – or acute, sense of being threatened. By the economy, politics, North Korea, Russia, deportation or the crumbling climate. And I see fight and flight responses everywhere – including within myself. Many of those visceral responses end up being the release of anxiety or the expressions of fear – and they end up locking us down.

Jesus comes to set us free – if we let him be the host. Jesus appears, meets us where we are, in whatever lockdown or escape we have devised. And Jesus stays with us – transforming our flights into freedom, and helping to refocus our fights so that they are no longer eruptions of fear but are instead forays for justice.

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