Seeing

Bible study

Bible passage: Luke 24 v 28-31

The veiling and unveiling of reality

The theme to be explored in this study is the veiling and unveiling of reality. Catching glimpses of a heavenly perspective in epiphany moments is something that can happen at any time in the Christian journey, but it seems to be especially intense at life-and-death events such as childbirth or as earthly life draws to its close.

Before reading the Bible passage(s) your group may find it helpful to look at this painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, called The Supper at Emmaus, which dates from 1601. The painting captures a particular moment in the Road to Emmaus story from Luke 24 – the moment of recognition.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio: The Supper at Emmaus
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio: The Supper at Emmaus

Notes on the painting

  • The picture was painted in 1601.
  • Caravaggio (unlike his followers) never shows his light source. The light source is to the left and fore of the frame. This cleverly throws the shadow of the innkeeper behind Jesus, perhaps suggesting that Jesus is the true host (even though he is a guest at the inn presumably paid for by the disciples).
  • The innkeeper keeps his hat on in the presence of Jesus and does not share the astonishment of the disciples. This seems to indicate that he doesn’t share in their epiphany.
  • Jesus is depicted with a face that was unconventional for depictions of Christ the time and drew some criticism. Is Caravaggio trying to emphasise that Jesus is a stranger who goes unrecognised?
  • The bowl of fruit in the foreground may symbolise the fruit of the Spirit, specifically the pomegranate may represent the church. But also note that the shadow it casts is that of a fish. This may also represent the church or it may point to later in the story when Jesus eats a piece of grilled fish in the presence of his disciples (Luke 24: 41-43), which itself refers back to the feeding of the multitudes. 
  • The cockle shell worn by one of the men indicates that he stands for all Christ’s pilgrim people, each on his/her own journey.
  • The posture of the disciples communicate the suddenness of the revelation, and the way perspective is used both makes them appear to come out of the canvas and to draw us in.

opening questions

  • How would you describe the mood of the painting?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • Caravaggio has depicted the events in his own time and culture. What might it look like in our locality today?

Bible passage

28As they came near the village to which they were going, [Jesus] walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 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. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him; and he vanished from their sight.

questions

  • The epiphany happens at the end of the day. Does this have something to say about insights achieved towards the end of life?
  • An ordinary act in an ordinary setting is transfigured. Have you ever experienced ‘heaven in ordinary’?
  • The opening of the disciples’ eyes is a kind of remembering – a recognition. It’s a joining up of the present with the past. Is this true of your moments of insight? Does it mean that later life is a time when such insights are likely to be more frequent and intense?

wider questions

  • Our glimpses of heaven in this life are infused with mystery but also sometimes of intimacy. How can we speak of them? Is it easier to communicate them through creative media such as poetry, visual art or music? Dare we speak of such things or are we too embarrassed?
  • How do we receive heavenly visions from ‘implausible’ witnesses, for example children, people with dementia, people with mental health conditions, people who are dying? (Look at Acts 2v17).

Additional passages

Here are four  passages in addition to the main one above. You could have a one-off study on a single passage, a series using all five passages, or break up a larger group into small subgroups to look at one passage each and then come back to share common themes. Click on the texts to find the suggested questions.

  • How many times is seeing mentioned in this passage? Who does the seeing in this passage?
  • The first words that Jesus speaks in John’s Gospel are ‘What are you looking for?’ (John 1v38). What are his last two words (John 21v22)?
  • Nathanael achieves his insight only when he sets his human preconceptions aside. What leads him to do this?
  • Jesus suggests (alluding to Genesis 28v10-12) that true seeing involves access to a ‘higher’ vision? How is this access achieved?
  • Why are the angels important? Angels and other winged creatures are often associated with death in people’s minds; why might this be? 
  • Jesus is not interested in second-hand opinions on the part of the disciples. Why do you think this is and how does this connect with ‘seeing’?
  • Peter seems unable to hold on to his higher vision and instead has difficulty setting his human preconceptions aside. (Nathanael’s problem is that Jesus comes from the wrong side of the tracks; Peter’s problem is the way of the cross). What might it mean for us to set our preconceptions aside?
  • Here we again have reference to a higher vision; what are ‘the things that are above’ and ‘the things that are on earth? (You may want to look at the rest of Colossians 3).
  • This passage mentions death, but who exactly has died and what does it mean?
  • Here, instead of a higher vision, Paul talks of an ultimate (and indeed intimate) vision. This vision will be achieved ‘then.’ When is ‘then’?
  • What do Paul and Nathanael have in common?
  • How do we get through life until ‘then’ if we can only see dimly – as it – were in a blurred first century looking glass? The next verse (1 Corinthians 13v13) may help here.

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