It’s Sunday afternoon. Two disciples of Jesus are walking to Emmaus, a few miles away from Jerusalem. As they walk, they discuss the bizarre events of the previous days. Their leader – a man named Jesus whom they had followed as he cast out demons, healed the sick, and raised the dead – had been betrayed by one of their own friends. Handed over to both the religious and political authorities, Jesus was crucified. When a third figure joins them on the road and asks what they’re discussing, they explain that they had hoped this Jesus was the Messiah, the one who would redeem Israel. Then they said some of the women who followed Jesus had come from his tomb that morning, insisting that the tomb was empty and angels had told them Jesus was alive. The stranger responds, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26 ESV).
The third figure, as Luke reveals, is the resurrected Christ himself. And his words here are a fitting summary of his teachings during his ministry: suffering precedes glory. Though parts of the Gospel which Jesus had preached were appealing, others could have been downright terrifying. His Gospel blessed the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed. But it sounded like a curse to others: “Woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh well, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:24-26 NASB). Several times Jesus taught about the dangers of wealth and worldly comforts and tells his disciples, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33 NIV). All these teachings came together in the words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” To follow Jesus meant receiving a certain degree of suffering.
The world would tell us that obedience to these teachings would only multiply our current pain and sorrow. But as the risen Christ himself proclaims, these sufferings are necessary to enter into his glory. As Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, goes on to show, the Apostles bore this relationship of suffering and glory about in their own bodies. When Jesus sends Ananias to the newly converted Saul, Jesus says, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16 ESV). Later known as Paul, this same Saul went on to write about the great glory he was entering into through such sufferings:
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, . . . So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor 3:18, 4:16-18).
As I read Luke through the lens of what we’ve studied together in the House of St. Michael, I see certain points of resonance between Jesus’ teachings here and the teachings of the Fathers. Here we have the scriptural beginnings of the Jesus Prayer, the tax collector crying “God be merciful to me a sinner!” (18:13) and the blind man calling out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (18:38). I hear Jesus calling us to the watchfulness which Hesychios unpacked for us in The Philokalia:
“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).
But the biggest point of resonance I see is the overarching theme of suffering in anticipation of future glory. When Jesus predicts his sufferings, he also says that he will be raised on the third day (9:22). The third day was his goal (13:32), and it was for that joy set before him that he endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). This principle governed his own life and ministry as well as his instructions to his disciples to forsake their lives, sell their possessions, endure hardships, and seek the Kingdom.
It was because of hope in the resurrection that Evagrios taught us to “Gladly bear vigils, sleeping on the ground, and all other hardships, looking to the glory that will be revealed to you and to all the saints; ‘for the sufferings of this present time,’ says the Apostle, ‘are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us” (“On Asceticism and Stillness” in The Philokalia p. 37). It was because of the resurrection that Symeon the New Theologian could write in Christ’s voice, “those who faithfully prostrate and worship Me, the visible God, / and those who keep my commandments are / invisibly illuminated, and mentally initiated into the glory / of my awesome divinity, and of the flesh I have taken on . . .” (“Hymn 32” Divine Eros p. 259). And it was because of the resurrection that John of Karpathos could say, “It is more serious to lose hope than to sin” (“Texts for the Monks in India” in The Philokalia p. 318). Hope enables us to endure both external trials and the internal setbacks of our own failures. Christ is victorious over sin and death. Hope will have the last word.
There is a great hope of glory before us. Let us not lose heart. Are we willing to pursue heavenly glory, even when our earthly tent is being torn down (2 Cor 5:1-5)? May the Lord grant us courage to seek the Kingdom and enter into his glory.