In the know

“Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have you not known the things which happened there in those days?’ ” (Luke 24:18 NKJV).

Tourists and travelers often do not read the local newspapers, nor watch local news on television. Even if they want to know what is going on in their present location they may not speak the language or have access to dependable sources. For one who rises to watch a national news program and goes to bed with the local broadcast, it is something of a shock to have no idea of just what is happening where he or she is.

I have always been fascinated by the disciple’s reaction to Jesus’ apparent lack of knowledge of the events which were so important to the twelve and their associates (Luke 24:13-17). Cleopas’ response reveals truths which apply to us as well. Consider the following.

First, we recognize that my important news may have little meaning to others. The Palestinian Jews of the first century were consumed with Messianic Expectations. Those centered on their belief that God would send his Anointed King, from the Davidic lineage, to win independence for the people of Israel and establish his great kingdom. Even Hellenistic Jews (those living elsewhere in the Greco- Roman world) were not nearly so concerned with Judean or Palestinian independence. Cleopas could not comprehend that “everybody did not know” about the crucifixion of Christ. The fact was that at the moment, from a purely secular viewpoint, it just was not that big a deal except in Palestine. (Obviously, with the resurrection, it became a huge deal to everyone, everywhere). When I go to Asia during an American election year, for example, I find that others are not nearly so interested in talking about it as I may be. That is my news, but it is not so much theirs.

Second, we learn that ignorance of local events may handicap us while we are among them. Jesus seemed to them to be confused by their conversation. Sometimes the problem is much more severe than just the inability to join the talk of others. I was in Kathmandu, Nepal when eleven members of the Royal family were assassinated in 2001. There were soon demonstrations escalating to near riots. Curfews were imposed, sometimes effective within only an hour or so of the announcement. Needless to say, I made sure to stay in constant touch with those who could update me on the state of affairs. When in another place, what is important to me may not matter to them, but what matters to them is likely to affect me in important ways.

Third, one’s knowledge of local matters, or lack thereof, is revealing of his identity. If I belong in a certain culture, I am expected to know pertinent facts about that culture. Its history, values, conventions, and manners are necessary to smooth relationships and interactions. Lack of knowledge of those things will identify us as a stranger or one who is uninformed. However, it may also cause us to commit breaches of etiquette or even crimes. Consequences can range from mild embarrassment to fines or imprisonment.

The obvious stranger may be excused for some of the milder offenses, but the fact is that if one plans to spend much time in a different culture, he or she is well advised to learn as much about its laws and customs as is possible. Such knowledge may save the traveler from trouble. Many of us remember the American teenager who thought it would be funny to scratch cars in a major Asian city but received a caning as punishment. What was a joke to him was serious vandalism to local authorities.

Perhaps of even more importance, local knowledge equips the visitor for a more productive and enjoyable experience. When we can converse meaningfully with our hosts about things that matter to them we quickly form better relationships. When we know at least a little of local geography, political/legal conditions, and culture we can appreciate what we see and hear more completely. Basic knowledge helps us know how to pack, what clothes to wear, and what accessories to take.

All of this has a direct spiritual application as well. Christians have their own customs, laws, values, and habits. Those of the world often do not know or understand these things. Peter remarked, “In regard to these (people of the world), they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you” (1 Peter 4:4). What we sometimes forget is that new disciples come from that strange foreign (to Spiritual matters) world. They are no longer strangers; now they belong to God’s people, bound by the same principles. Let those who are more mature recognize their need to be gently and patiently taught those things that we have long known. Their continued growth and faithfulness may depend upon such teaching.

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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