Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.[I]
This is of course The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. And I began with this poem today because this concept of diverging roads looms large in this text and in the world today. Let me explain. In our Palm Sunday story from Matthew today, we see Jesus entering Jerusalem from the east. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, however, suggest there was also another parade that day. There was a Roman procession entering from the west, a military parade, featuring the governor Pontius Pilate.
Now, the comparison of these two processions would have set up quite a contrast. One came as an expression of empire and military occupation whose goal was to make sure Israel’s oppressed masses didn’t find deliverance. It approached the city with mighty horses, weapons and helmets gleaming in the sun, proclaiming the power of empire. But the eastbound procession was quite different. Jesus came in on a donkey, the humblest form of transportation (after walking I suppose) And the crowds, the crowds were spreading cloaks and laying branches on the road in front of him, all the while calling out, “Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest heaven.” The west road was about spreading fear. But the Traveler from the east, he came proclaiming the peaceful reign of God.[ii]
Now, historically speaking, these two competing parades are well documented. We know they both took place. But theologically speaking there’s another road I’d like you to consider today. The one less traveled as it were and that road is the road to Emmaus.
You remember the story. Jesus appeared mysteriously to a couple of disillusioned disciples on the road to Emmaus. The disciples thought he was just another pilgrim heading home. As they were traveling along, these two disciples tell the incognito Jesus of their shattered hopes and dreams. A dream of liberation from Rome and a hope that rested on the shoulders of the great prophet whom they thought would redeem Israel.
Remember now, the concept of redemption for those disciples, and for many other Jews including Judas Iscariot, meant that a conquering, sword-wielding Messiah would come and lead them to freedom. They wanted a warrior messiah. So, you can understand why their hopes and dreams had been crushed by the death of Jesus.
But, that’s when it happened. Jesus, still a stranger to the disciples, proceeded to explain to them that their expectation for a Messiah had been accomplished through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But they still hadn’t identified him at this point. Upon arriving in Emmaus, however, the disciples invited the stranger into their home to share a meal and stay the night. Jesus agreed. And when it was time for supper, he took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them. It was in that moment, that they recognized the Risen and Living Christ.
So, here we are. We have three roads, three journeys, each containing a distinct message. Pilate’s message was “might makes right” and he could back up his claim with the mightiest military force on earth. But Christ’s message was a little different. Maybe we could say his message was, “right makes might.”
You see, as he mounted the donkey that day and as he began to move into Jerusalem, he knew what lie ahead. He knew he was headed toward the cross, toward his execution, toward his death. But he went anyway because he knew it was the right thing to do.
But the story doesn’t end there. It doesn’t end at the cross nor does it end in the tomb. Remember, the third road, the road to Emmaus. Now, this narrative has often been viewed as a message of faith or as a reflection of the sacrament. Others have lifted-up the hospitality of the two men and used them as an example of how to offer a wide welcome in our communities and churches today. All these applications are correct. But I think it goes deeper than that, especially considering the parade of palms.
You see, on the road to Emmaus Jesus was moving outward, away from Jerusalem, symbolically moving away from the cross of death and toward the resurrection of life. So, this story is finally about taking the good news out there taking out a message of hospitality, and sacrament, and faith.
Do you see what I’m driving at here? The road to Emmaus is the completion of the palm laden, triumphal journey into Jerusalem. It’s a completion of Christ’s journey in this world, but not ours. Our journey continues. It continues as we attempt to live-into our covenant with God and as we live-out our faith by enduring these troubling times, by remaining in the service to our neighbor, and by propagating community in spite of our isolation.
As we figuratively “hit the road” today, we can ask ourselves a couple of key questions that may facilitate our journey. As a congregation, what palm leaves have we spread? In other words, during the “quote/unquote” normal times and during this period of global upheaval how have we made a difference in our community and in the world? And on a more individual level, on a more Spiritual level, where have you seen Jesus? At a stop along the road? In the sacred, healing bread of communion? In the giving or receiving of hospitality? Perhaps by being there, if only on the phone, with someone who’s frightened, or grieving, or alone?
My friends, as we once again move into Holy Week, my prayer for all of us is that we will come full circle and complete our Lenten journey, by encountering the Risen and Living Christ on whatever road lays ahead. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
May it be so for you and for me. Amen.
[ii] John Crossan & Marcus Borg. Eclipsing Empire: Paul, Rome, and the Kingdom of God. (Living the Questions DVD Series, 2010)