Summary: Seeing the Christ in our midst...
I can remember being young and watching the play Peter Pan. In that play there is a scene in which Tinker Bell, who becomes jealous of Wendy, agrees to betray Peter Pan by identifying the location of his hiding place to Captain Hook. Captain Hook then sends a bomb to Peter Pan which is disguised as a present from Tinker Bell; the plan, obviously, to blow up Peter Pan. When Tinker Bell discovers Hook's plan she rushes to where Peter is an takes the package, saving Peter, but getting caught in the explosion.When Peter Pan realized what had happened, he turned to the audience, pleading them to wish as hard as they could and clap their hands as loudly as they were able, and said that if we believed hard enough, Tinker Bell would come back to life. So like all the people in the audience I clapped and wished as hard as I could and Tinker Bell was saved. That is how life worked in Never-Never Land– a strong wish and a loud clap could perform miracles.
Since that time, however, I have forgotten my way to Never-Never Land; and, as a result, I spend most of my time residing in the "real world." In the real world we sometimes have hopes that the laws of Never-Never Land apply, but we usually know better. In the real world we sometimes express the hope that the underdog will win out against the ruthless oppressor. We sometimes express the hope that those who do bad things will be punished, if not by civil or criminal law, then at least by some cosmic law. So we speak of concepts such as karma and reciprocity and we remind ourselves that "what goes around comes around."
Unfortunately, though, when we remove the Peter Pan spectacles from our eyes and view the world for what it really is, we find that the people who do bad things more often than not, act with impunity; and worse, are often rewarded for their actions. We see that the ruthless oppressor nearly always rolls over the underdog, crushing it without the slightest effort. And we realize that, no matter how hard we wish and how loudly we clap, Tinker Bell stays dead. This is the real world; and it is exactly to this world which the Bible speaks.
The Jews in the first century lived in the "real world." They had been oppressed long enough to learn of the fate of the underdog. They had wished hard enough to learn the futility of that effort. Although they had, for the most part, accepted their condition, they expected God to do something about it. They expressed hope for the Messiah. Now, the reality was that there was very little agreement on exactly who the Messiah would be or what he would do; Yet, in spite of the particular expectation associated with the Messiah, most Jews associated the Messiah with freedom from oppression. God's Messiah would come in and wipe everything clean. The Messiah would throw out all the enemies of God's people and establish a theocracy. The Messiah would restore Israel to its former glory. The Messiah was perceived as being a sort of end-time Peter Pan, who would stand up to the Romans and establish the Kingdom of God.
That seems to be what many of the followers of Jesus expected him to do and to be. Jesus was perceived by many as the Messiah complete with whatever Messianic hopes they wished to attach to him. His followers watched as he triumphantly entered the city of Jerusalem as they shouted “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” And they watched in horror as he was betrayed, tried, and crucified a few days later. And since they lived in the real world, they knew that no amount of wishing and clapping was going to bring him back. As a result, their Messianic hopes died on the cross with Jesus, whom they expected to liberate Israel.
Then, out of nowhere, women who went to the tomb of Jesus to make the final preparations for his burial found that the tomb was empty and had a vision in which two angels told them that he was alive. The women went to the eleven and other disciples but they lived in the real world and "these words seemed to them an idle tale and they did not believe them"(24:11). Later that day, two disciples where walking to Emmaus and Jesus himself came up to them and accompanied them, but they did not recognize him. They were the underdog in the real world; they were crushed by people who did bad things. Their hearts were shattered; and the irony is that just when they needed to see Jesus the most, they failed to recognized him.