The Gospel reading on Easter Monday relates the story of the risen Christ meeting two of his disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus and is a powerful reminder of the role of the Christian in a world where much confusion reigns. This Gospel reading gives – more than we might realize – a detailed explanation of how we ought to deal with those inside and outside of the Church that do not follow Christ’ teaching or do not believe in Him at all. The lack of faith and faithfulness to the Gospel can be found as much in the Church as among non-Christians.
We read in the last chapter of Luke (24, 13-35, cf. www.usccb.org):
“13. Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, 14. and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. 15. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, 16. but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. 17. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast. 18. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19. And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people 20. how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. 21. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. 22. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning 23. and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. 24. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” 25. And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! 26. Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27. Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. 28. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. 29. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. 31. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. 32. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” 33. So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them 34. who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” 35. Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
The risen Christ, whose disciples do not even recognize him because of their confusion and lack of faith, must have been disappointed by their blindness. But He is patient, and before explaining to them the scriptures – something especially theologians love to do – Jesus takes the time to walk with them and listen to them. Jesus does not commence his journey with these men by condemning them for their inability to recognize him and understand the truth of his suffering, cross and resurrection. No, Christ himself went in search of his confused children to be with them and to let them express all their sorrows and questions. Only after the disciples had spoken and Jesus had listened did He guide them through the scriptures explaining God’s plan. And still they did not see. Even the words spoken by the risen Christ himself did not right away lead the two disciples to understanding and seeing. Their hearts remained closed although “burning within them”, meaning that even more was needed to finally overcome their blindness. Their eyes were opened when Jesus broke the bread and said the blessing – when Christ brought them into union with him through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the summit of our faith.
What does this mean for us Christians, for those teaching or studying at the ITI, at theological faculties, or otherwise serving the Church? What does this Gospel tell us about our relationship with lukewarm Christians and non-Christians alike? What does this mean for our approach to an increasingly non-religious and anti-Christian mainstream world, where now the targeted persecution and killing of Christians is rising dramatically in the face of a largely silent political leadership?
Mercy in Truth. We need to go out and look for those rejecting Christ the Son of God and His teaching, we need to walk with them and listen to them ever so patiently and only then without compromise but with great charity and clarity teach the Gospel in its fullness and bring them to the sacraments; and still we should not expect “success” in our own lifetimes or for us to see, knowing that only Christ himself can convert hearts. This requires much courage and the willingness to come out of hiding, whether it be hiding in worldliness or in self-righteousness, two sides of the same coin. As Pope Francis said to the millions of young people gathered on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janiero during World Youth Day 2013:
“Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.”
If we Christians in the West do not rise up and stand for our faith and diligently proclaim the Gospel in deed and word, which means active evangelization by all on all levels of society, then we are withholding the greatest treasure from our fellow human beings that do not know or follow Christ. Distorted ideologies will then also continue to immerse and reshape our culture that are not human but ever more barbaric in their extreme violence – whether physical or psychological – towards the sacredness of life, the family and religious freedom.
We have no choice but to do like Jesus did on his way to Emmaus: to actively seek the confused and the unbelieving and to journey with them with patience, mercy and in truth so as to lead them to Christ – to bring them to the point where the two Emmaus disciples said to each other: “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” The fire of faith burning in our hearts should ignite a fire in the hearts of those we journey with, which can be achieved by following Jesus’ example of seeking, accompanying, listening and speaking. How fitting and bitterly true are the words written in the spiritual testament of the martyred Pakistani Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti, who died in a hail of bullets for defending Christians in his country as Minister for Minorities in 2011:
“I want my life, my character and my actions to speak for me, and to say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. This is so strong a desire in me that I would consider it a privilege if Jesus should wish to accept the sacrifice of my life.”
All areas of our life should reflect Christ brightly. Every Christian should work to lead others to Christ, which also has to be the primary goal in life for every theologian, whether lay or clergy. If not, we will allow ourselves to be further led into a culture that is directed by disruptive and violent ideologies where Man and its many falsehoods, and not God his Creator, is the measure of all things. History tells us how such societies end.