Following Jesus’ death the disciples were scared and disorganized. They had followed Jesus for three years and didn’t believe him when he said that he was going to be betrayed and crucified (Mt 20:17-19). Most of them hid in the Upper Room and locked the door. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Cleopas and the unnamed disciple left Jerusalem entirely and walked toward Emmaus. Luke 24 states:
13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[f] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
As the two walked they discussed Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. Surely, this must have been scary, disheartening and traumatizing. They just wanted to “get out of Dodge.” Scripture teaches us that a fellow traveler came near and walked with them, but they didn’t recognize him. He overheard their conversation and asked what they were discussing?
Truth from the Balcony
Former missionary and President of Princeton Theological Seminary, John Mackay, wrote about the difference between two approaches to truth: the balcony and the way. Mackay cited Aristotle and French Philosopher, Ernest Renan, as examples of the balcony approaches to truth known as Speculative Humanism. This assumes that the human being can achieve complete autonomy and objectivity in order to have a contemplative attitude toward reality. This approach “did not challenge things as they were, they only tried to understand them.” Another thinker in this camp was Rene Decartes who believed in “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am). In other words, he affirmed that thought was superior to action or a loving heart. A balcony approach to truth “never takes sides in favor of anything” and doesn’t descend from his ivory tower to commit himself.
Truth from the Road
Mackay describes another approach to truth. The Road represents first-hand experience at the intersection of thought, living concern, issues of indecision, and action. Mackay defines the road as “the place where life is tensely lived, where thought has its birth in conflict and concern, where choices are made and decisions are carried out.” Mackay writes that “the deepest truths about reality can be known, therefore, only by people who start from a deep concern about life and who are prepared to commit themselves irrevocably to the full implications of the truth that satisfies their concern.”  Kierkegaard takes the critique of those on the balcony one step further by arguing that they do not fully exist “because they have not attained to the state of true ‘existence.’” Here Kierkegaard is challenging Descartes’ famous cogito ergo sum and replacing it was “Pugno ergo sum” (I struggle, therefore I am).
While a theology from the balcony makes sense using society’s logic, the gospel flips this reasoning on its head with a theology from the path. Another theologian flips society’s logic on its head is James Cone. In his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, reflects on the cross that was intended to be a tool of repression by the Roman Empire and compares it to the lynching tree in the Jim Crow south. Cone writes: “That God could ‘make a way out of no way’ in Jesus’ cross was truly absurd to the intellect, yet profoundly real in the souls of black folks.” Similar to Mackay’s critique of the theology of the balcony as being too intellectual, Cone continues: “The gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to be explained in a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed, which led to his death on the cross.” Similarly for Kierkegaard true existence requires “passionate identification”with the Eternal and the need to find a cause for which one can live and die. So knowledge of the divine can only be attained through absolute commitment. In Mackay’s words: “Truth is found upon the road.”
Illustrious Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, wrote a poem about a traveler on the road translated into English with the title of “Walker.” Machado’s poem encourages us to forge our own path:
Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
As we begin to walk, the Lukan passage teaches us that Jesus appears on the road. They needed to get off the balcony and start the journey before Jesus could join them. As Jesus began to walk with the disciples he asked: “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” It is at this point that their relationship to Jesus deepened and culminated in breaking bread and having their eyes opened to see Christ. The three years observing Jesus’ ministry were wonderful, but they were still bystanders observing from the balcony. Now they were forced to take their first steps, but once they did Jesus came alongside them. If we stay on the balcony, are passive and noncommittal we may lose the opportunity to encounter the Risen Christ.
Getting off the Balcony
As we move through the liturgical season of Eastertide I encourage you to not rest on your laurels or the nostalgia of past memories. Sitting on the balcony and enjoying the view may seem attractive at first, however it is an illusion of truth. For those of you who are graduating, commencement is a wonderful milestone. You can be proud of your academic accomplishments, however there is no time to linger on the balcony. While a bird’s eye view offers a macro perspective, one cannot reach the destination by staying in the same place. For me personally, I have enjoyed the Dean’s role and having a macro view, however the Dean’s Office can also become insular. So I have decided to return to the classroom, become a fellow companion in the pursuit of truth. We are all sojourners together and on the road toward liberation. The most important thing is to take the first step–wherever you find yourself—and trust in Jesus’ promise to be with us always.
I invite you to go down from the balcony, to give up the nostalgia and fixation over what has happened in Jerusalem, and to commitment to a cause—whatever you are most passionate about—to start down the road toward living out the promise of the Resurrection. We know that it won’t be easy, but we know that the truth is in the road. Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
Dean Phil Wingeier-Rayo
April 24, 2021
 John Mackay, A Preface to Christian Theology, p.32.
 Ibid, 34.
 Ibid, 44.
 John Mackay, A Preface to Christian Theology, p.30
 Ibid, 44.
 Ibid, 45.
 James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Orbis Books, 2011, 2.
 Ibid, 150.
 Mackay, 48.
 Ibid, 48.
 Ibid, 39.
Antonio Machado, “Walker”