Have you ever watched the TV program Undercover Boss? On this show, the leader of a business, often the president, goes and works in his own business, usually in an entry level position, to see from the inside how things are really working. Now if the CEO just walked into a store or a factory dressed in his or her business suit, they would see only the best side of the operation. So instead the boss goes into the business in disguise. Often they will dye their hair or wear a fake mustache, or wear clothes that looks nothing like them.
It’s really amazing when you look at their before and after pictures. There have even been times when even those who know the boss don’t recognized them. And the results are always interesting. As you can imagine the boss often sees things and hears things that no one would ordinarily want them to know. There are times when operating procedures are thrown out the window. There are times when quality standards are ignored. There are even times when the boss has heard his own workers criticizing him.
But the boss also sees wonderful things such as employee loyalty, diligent work, and people making sacrifices for their families. At the end of the show, the boss always has a meeting with each employee and they talk about what he or she observed, the good and the not so good.
This show reminds me of a story in the Gospel of John. In this story, two of Jesus’s disciples meet a stranger who turns out to be someone who they know very well. It was the afternoon of that first Easter Sunday. As these two disciples walked from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus, they talked of all that had happened, Jesus’ arrest, his crucifixion, and now rumors that he was alive. As they walked, another man came and joined them. This man was Jesus, though the disciples didn’t recognize him. We don’t know what he looked like. The gospel doesn’t say why they couldn’t recognize him but they couldn’t. Jesus walked with them for miles. He not only walked with them, he listened to them and then he taught them. As they listened, their hearts burned with the fire of God’s presence. Then when they arrived in Emmaus, the disciples invited this stranger to come in and stay the night with them. As they sat at the table, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples. When he did, the eyes of his disciples were opened and they recognized Jesus. And then in that moment, he disappeared.
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Jesus walked with his friends for miles and they didn’t recognize him. This passage reminds me that often when Jesus comes to me, I may not recognize him either. He comes with many different faces and skin tones. Jesus comes in the man who is overworked and looking for help to keep his family together. Jesus comes in the coworker who is sometimes difficult to deal with. Jesus comes in the child who has been abused and is seeking refuge.
Jesus comes in the next door neighbor who just needs someone to listen to her struggles. Jesus comes in the form of our very own family members who just need our love.
We meet Jesus every day. But you might say he comes to us “undercover”. Because he comes to us through his people, we sometimes fail to recognize him. If he looked like the pictures we see in the Children’s Bible or in our stained glass windows, we would immediately offer our help without hesitation. We want to love Jesus. But because we often don’t recognize him, we miss our opportunity to show him just how much we love him.
But each day we do have a chance to love Jesus. All we have to do is keep our hearts open. As we listen, as we share, as we walk the road with our follow brothers and sisters, we will meet Jesus. We will see him in the lonely and the joyful, in those who are strong and those who are weak, in those like us and in those who are very different. And as we reach out and touch them, we will meet the risen Lord. As we love them, we love Jesus.
I’m sure that when those two disciples realized that they had spent hours with Jesus, they replayed their conversations in their head, wondering if they did and said the right things, wondering if their actions had been consistent with their love for Jesus. Are our actions consistent with our love for Jesus? It’s really very simple. Each day we love others, we love Jesus.
The Rev. Sally Franklin is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fort Mill: firstname.lastname@example.org.