I had a classmate at an evangelical Christian college who repeatedly defined faith as “stepping out of airplanes, knowing that God will catch you.” My response was that surely God had better things to do than catch folks stupid enough to step out of airplanes. Matthew’s story of Jesus walking on the water with Peter can spawn bad theologies.
Paul and Jesus, each facing a crisis, are tempted to succumb to despair and fear. Each man has gone out in ministry to his own people and been rejected. Paul recognizes that his Jewish listeners do not accept his message about Jesus and opens Romans 9 with what is the barest beginning of his anxious questioning about whether God’s salvation story still includes the people of Israel.
The storyteller weaves it all together—an unknown traveler named Cleopas and his companion; the resurrected Jesus, who is present but in an unrecognized, mysterious fashion; the travelers’ sudden recognition of Jesus; and his sudden disappearance.