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08 May 2011

Jerusalem and Emmaus: The Ongoing Journey

One fine full-moon night, a thief entered the hut of a Zen master. The thief had been successful at two other homes, but as he was looking around this house, he was disappointed to see that there was nothing to steal; the room was bare. And then suddenly he saw a man who was coming with a candle in his hand. The man said, with great kindness in his voice, “What are you looking for in the dark? Why did you not wake me up? I was just sleeping near the front door. Had I known you were coming, I could have shown you the whole house.” Because the master looked so simple and innocent, the thief said, “Perhaps you do not know that I am a thief.” The master replied, “That doesn’t matter, everybody has to be someone. The point is that I have been in the house for thirty years and I have not found anything, so let us search together! And if we can find something, we can be partners. I have not found anything in this house; I think it is empty.”

At this point, the thief got a bit scared; this man seemed strange. He said to himself: Either he is mad or, worse, who knows what kind of man he ? The more he stood there with this strange man, he wanted to leave.Besides, outside the master's house he had hidden the loot he had stolen from the other two homes. The master had only one blanket — that was all that he had — and it was a cold night. So when the thief turned to leave, he told him, “Don’t leave just like that, don’t insult me this way; otherwise I will never be able to forgive myself, that a poor man came to my house in the middle of the night and had to go empty-handed. Just take this blanket. And it will be good — outside it is so cold. I am inside the house; it is warmer here.” He covered the thief with his blanket. The thief was just losing his mind! He said, “What are you doing? I am a thief!”

The master said, “That does not matter. In this world everybody has to be somebody, has to do something. You may be stealing; that doesn’t matter, a profession is a profession. Just do it well, with all my blessings. Do it perfectly, don’t be caught; otherwise you will be in trouble.”

The thief shook his head and said, “You are strange. You are naked and you don’t have anything!” The master said, “Don’t be worried, because I am coming with you! Only the blanket was keeping me in this house; otherwise in this house there is nothing — and the blanket I have given to you. I am coming with you — we could live together. You seem to have a few things; it is a good partnership. I have given my all to you. You can give me a little bit; that will be right.” The thief could not believe it! He just wanted to escape from that place and from that man. He said, “No, I cannot take you with me. I have my wife, I have my children, and my neighbors, what will they say? — `You have brought a naked man!’” He said, “Alright then. I will not put you in any embarrassing situation. So you can go, I will remain in this house.”

But as the thief was leaving, the master shouted, “Hey! Come back!” The thief had never heard such a strong voice; it was like a knife. He had to come back. The master thundered, “Learn some courtesy. I have given you the blanket and you have not even thanked me. So first, thank me; it will help you a long way. Secondly, going out — you opened the door when you came in — close the door! Can’t you see the night is so cold, and can’t you see that I have given you the blanket and I am naked? I have no problem with your being a thief, but as far as manners are concerned, I am quite peculiar. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior. Say thank you!” The thief had to say, “Thank you, sir,” and he closed the door and escaped.

The thief could not sleep the whole night. Again and again he remembered...he had never heard such a strong voice, such power. And the man had nothing! He inquired the next day and he found out that this was Ryokan, a great Zen master known all over the country. He had not done well by this master, and he felt bad about it. It was absolutely ugly to steal from that man; he had nothing. But he was a great master. The thief said, “That I can understand myself — that he is a very strange kind of man. Remembering him, a shivering goes through my body. When he called me back I could not run away. I was absolutely free, I could have taken my loot and run away, but I could not. There was something in his voice that pulled me back.”

Well, after a few months the thief was caught during one of his robberies and was hauled to court. There the magistrate asked him, “Can you name a person who knows you in this vicinity?” He said, “Yes, one person knows me” ... and he named Master Ryokan. The magistrate said, "That’s enough — call Master Ryokan. His testimony is worth that of ten thousand people. What he says about you will be enough to give judgment.”

They found Ryokan and brought him. The magistrate asked the master, “Do you know this man?” He said, “Know him? We are partners. He is my friend. He even visited me one night in the middle of the night. It was so cold that I gave him my blanket. He is using it, you can see. That blanket is famous all over the country; everybody knows it is mine.”  The magistrate said, “He is your friend? And does he steal?” The master said, “Never! He simply couldn't do such thing! He is such a gentleman that when I gave him the blanket he said to me, `Thank you, sir.’ When he went out of the house, he silently closed the doors. He is a very polite, nice fellow.” The magistrate said, “If you say so, then all the testimonies of the witnesses who have said that he is a thief are canceled. He is free to go.”

The master went out and the thief followed him. The master said, “What are you doing? Why are you coming with me?” He said, “Now I can never leave you. You have called me your friend, you have called me your partner. Nobody has ever given me any respect. You are the first person who has said that I am a gentleman, a nice person. I am going to sit at your feet and learn how to be like you. From where have you got this maturity, this power, this strength, this seeing of things in a totally different way?”

The master said, “Do you know that night how bad I felt? You had gone; it was so cold. Without a blanket sleep was not possible. I wept that night, that thieves should learn a few things. At least they should inform a day or two ahead when they come to a man like me, so we can arrange something, so they don’t have to go empty-handed. ... It is good that you remembered me in court; otherwise those fellows are dangerous, they might have mistreated you. That very night I offered to come with you and be partners with you. Then you refused, but now you want to come. Of course, you can come. Whatever I have I will share with you. But it is not material: it is something invisible.”

The thief said, “That I can feel; it is something invisible. But you have saved my life, and now it is yours. Make whatever you want to make of it. I have been simply wasting it. Seeing you, looking in your eyes, one thing is certain — that you have some sort of power to change me. Please don't make me leave you; I have fallen in love.”

Zen master Ryokan was not afraid of the thief; he didn't despise him; he didn't judge him; he didn't tell him he had to change. He simply accepted him and shared the little he had, -- and the thief was amazed at the power this naked man began to have over him.

He Qui: Walk to Emmaus

Like Zen master Ryokan transformed the thief with his love and showed him glimpses of a new life, Jesus transformed the two sad disciples walking to Emmaus. They were hopeless, convinced that their hope had died on the cross, and they were clueless, blinded to the divine presence right in front of them by their pain and suffering.

Much like a good therapist, Jesus invites them to talk ("What things in Jerusalem? Tell me!") and as he gets a sense of how forelorn and sad they are, he "softly and tenderly" reinterprets their dim view of the world. He reminds them that their Master, as the Christ announced by the prophets, has proclaimed a new world, and lived and acted for the sake of that new world, even as he was consistent in holding up reconciliation and peace against violence and hate, all the way to his death on the cross.

They glimpse for the first time that his death was indeed a new beginning. They realize that their Master has destroyed the chain that links violence to more violence, and destruction to more destruction. They see that he destroyed that chain that has kept everyone from living; he destroyed the chain that made everyone powerless in the face of death and allowed death to win every time.

Even as they have been transformed, knowing that the cross is the end of the reign of death, they know that the new road they are on doesn't lead them outside of the world. It leads them right back into the place of disappointments and problems and difficult experiences and defeat and suffering and fear.

And so it is with each of us. We walk from one Jerusalem experience of doubt, suffering and pain to the corresponding Emmaus experience filled with peace, hope and joy. But eventually life's twists and turns will land us in another Jerusalem where our hopes get crucified and our dreams get killed, and then to another Emmaus where hopeless and clueless believers get restored.  And so it goes on ... yet because of the Resurrection, there is no senseless repetition.

Our journey has a direction. Because we know where we are going, we will "get better at it".  Because we know that wherever we go that Jesus is going ahead of us, we won't be walking alone. Because the Reign of God is closer than ever before, there is joy in the journey even when it gets tough again.

Luke 24: 13-35

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