“It’s Anything but Cheap”

April 26, 2020

Luke 24:13–35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Have you heard the phrase: “Talk is cheap?” As an idiom the phrase applies to someone who promises you something that you don’t think will come to be. Talking about something rather than actually doing it does make talk cheap. “My boss keeps saying she’ll give me a raise, but talk is cheap.” “You’ve been promising me a new dishwasher for five years now. Talk is cheap.”

There are many quips we use that give talking bad reviews. “They who think too little — talk too much” or “A dog is smarter than some people. It wags its tail and not its tongue.” In some contexts, “talk is cheap” but in this bible reading (see bottom) Jesus shows us that talking can be one of the richest aspects of our faith and relationships with each other.

Today, there are sociologists who believe we are losing the art of conversation in American life. Eric Hoffer was a social philosopher years back. He wrote books about the art of conversation. President Reagan awarded Hoffer the Presidential Medal of Freedom for literature shortly before his death in 1983. When Hoffer was five years old his mother fell down the stairs with him in her arms and she died. Two years later, at the age of seven Hoffer suddenly lost his vision. Until his eyesight inexplicably returned at age 15, he was cared for by a German immigrant named Martha. Hoffer credits her for learning the importance of conversation. He writes glowingly of this nanny:

“Martha must have really loved me, because those eight years of blindness during my childhood, are in my mind, a very happy time. I remember a lot of talk and laughter. I must have talked a great deal, because Martha used to say again and again, ‘I remember you said this or you said that.’…She remembered everything I said, and all my life I have had the feeling that conversation is important and that what I said and what I thought are worth remembering. She gave me that.” (From an article on Hoffer in 1957article by Eugene Burdick).

Do you know someone who has given you the feeling that conversation is important and what you say is worth remembering? I recall my mother and her sister, who would come up from Chicago to visit when I was a child. The two of them would talk for hours on end — sharing rich conversation filled with interest and love.

As I read this Bible story from Luke, I see a wonderful conversation taking place. Two men, Jesus’ disciples were on a long walk, going seven miles to a town called Emmaus. While they walked, these two men engaged in conversation.

The setting is the evening of the first Easter. Earlier that morning it was discovered that Jesus had risen from the dead. Can you imagine all the things these two men were talking about! Their lives had changed dramatically because of Jesus and of course they had many questions and feelings to share with each other.

The Bible tells us that while the two men were talking, Jesus joined them. For some unknown reason, they didn’t recognize Jesus. But the two disciples welcomed Jesus into their conversation. In turn, he asks some questions. Next the men invite Jesus to stick around and later on they share a meal together, while still unaware of Jesus’ true identity. But it was during conversation at the meal that they finally recognize Jesus.

As I look closely at this story of Jesus and the two disciples and pay attention to the conversation that takes place, I learn two important things from Jesus that apply to our lives.

1 Jesus was a fine conversationalist. He was always engaging people and getting them speaking about things that matter. He wanted to know about their values and their faith. Those disciples, after this encounter with Jesus on that first Easter Sunday evening said to each other: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us?” Jesus knew how to engage people in conversation and it touched them to their very heart.

Do you know any fine conversationalists? Think about the attributes they possess? People who are good at conversational know how to balance speaking and listening, interest and emotions, ideas and opinion. They know how to bring about dialog. And what most people want from conversation is dialogue and interaction, not just one-way traffic. Jesus did that beautifully in this bible story.

2 Jesus was also a remarkably active and attentive listener. Jesus was known to engage all sorts of people, asking questions of government officials, religious big-wigs, prostitutes, politicians, lawyers, fishermen, even antagonists. It seems that Jesus was interested in everyone and wanted to draw them out.

Jesus was quite unusual in that quality. While many people you and I know talk nonstop, or talk about themselves too much, Jesus always wanted to hear from the people he encountered, and to know them as fully as possible. Jesus listened — heard their emotions and noted their faith or lack of it — and he asked questions to further the conversation.

Today, the state of conversation has changed. I wonder what affect technology is having on the presence of conversation in our lives. During this pandemic, we have needed to rely on impersonal means of conversation. But even prior, with email, texting, twitter, snapchat, instagram and facebook — much of how we communicate has been changed. Our communication comes in bursts of abbreviated words, absent punctuation, and emojis. We apologize if an email is “too long.” Digital communication and human interaction take on the electronic equivalents of speaking at one another. We never have to be physically present with each other to talk to each other anymore.

So, I wonder if these changes deter us from really get to know each other and build the skills needed for life-giving relationships. It is true that some form of communication is better than none, but conversation is profoundly inhibited when it’s dependent upon technology.

Jesus and those two disciples on that Easter night found their lives drawn together through conversation and eating together. On that topic, researchers who study our western culture some time ago noted that we don’t even do well eating together anymore. Restaurants are either set up to get us eating and moving quickly or they surround us with television screens and blaring speakers. In neither are we encouraged to linger and enjoy a dining and conversation experience.

The problem is that when we lose our capacity for conversation and for dining together, we lose essential channels of grace and life-giving relationships. After those two disciples had eaten and enjoyed conversation with Jesus they said to each other: “didn’t it warm our hearts when Jesus talked with us…?”

We can find our hearts warmed when someone listens to us — gives us the time — shows interest in us. The lesson from Jesus today shows us that through genuine conversation, channels are opened to discover the nature of God present in and through us. The human ability for meaningful exchange with each other is an abiding means of grace. The capacity to share a meal together is an important part of seeing how God works in our lives to bring joy and blessings.

I hope that your life is already enriched by the grace of good conversation. If so, thank God for it. Then go out (when your state’s shelter at home order is lifted) and model that grace with others. If you have yet to experience this joy, reflect again on Jesus in this Bible story today. Reread Luke chapter 24 on your own. Ask God to give you the courage and the ability to be a good listener, to ask questions, to find interest in the lives and faith of others. And finally, realize how God works in your life through the people who engage you in talk — which is anything but cheap.

Prayer:

God, thank you for the stories of the Bible that show us how much you love us. Today, we see how Jesus loved to talk with people. This story of Jesus touches each of us, because, in some part of our lives, we have difficulty talking or listening or being understood. This week, God, prod us to be better listeners and to show interest in others. Where we need it God, give us the courage to speak. Thanks God, for those people who have touched our lives with good conversation because in them, we have seen you. Amen.

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Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.