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Our Paschal Walk to Emmaus
On that same day two of Jesus’ followers were going to a village named Emmaus, about eleven kilometres from Jerusalem, and they were talking to each other about all the things that had happened. As they talked and discussed, Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them … As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther - (Lk 24: vv 13-15 & 28).

April   |   2000   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

‘Jesus acted as if he were going farther…’ This verse, taken from St Luke’s Gospel, indicates that Jesus was quite purposely ‘feigning’ his intention to continue his walk to Emmaus. This is exceptional - if not downright odd - coming from Jesus himself. All throughout the biblical narratives, the gospel writers are quite clear in their assertion that make believe was not part of Jesus’ disposition! In fact, the verb ‘acted as if’ is used only this once in the New Testament. However, I do not think that this sole exception connotes any moral latitude on the part of the Resurrected Christ. On the contrary, his self-effacing discretion manifests a presence that deeply respects the mystery of others. It mobilises our faith, shifts it into high gear, deepens it and then opens up a ‘new route’ for believers to follow - which, incidentally, is the etymology of the word ‘synod’.

Let us just go back two thousand years and put ourselves for one minute in the place of those disciples! They had spent three years with Jesus as he walked and talked across the whole land. They were now desperately trying to make sense of the events they had just witnessed in Jerusalem. They were dazed, and found themselves confused and fearful. After all, the crucifixion of their teacher had shattered all their idealistic images of Jesus as Saviour of Israel. Their master had died, but the Resurrected Christ was suddenly in their midst again some three days later. And not only that! There was also nothing earth-shattering in Christ’s apparition in their midst. It was certainly not reminiscent of the thunder, lightning, thick clouds and loud trumpet blasts that accompanied the theophany of the Israelites at Mount Sinai when Moses met with God (Ex 19:16). If anything, this meeting was noticeable by its low-key discretion! According to Luke’s version of the encounter on the walk to Emmaus, Jesus simply joined his disciples, walked along with them and asked them, “What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?” As simple as that - no fanfare, no great shakes and certainly no fireworks!

I believe that this discretion of the Saviour at Emmaus is paradigmatic of the relations Jesus Christ continues to have with us today. It takes into account our own slowness and slothfulness. Instead of impressive and hard-hitting gestures, he takes the time to ‘walk the walk’ in all humility and engages us in plain conversations - almost like intimate banters. In verse 21 of St Luke’s version of the walk, the disciples - who had not yet discovered the true identity of Jesus Christ - tell the stranger they had hoped that Jesus would be the one who would set Israel free. Again, in verses 23 and 24 of the same text, the disciples inform the ‘stranger’ that some of the women had gone at dawn to the tomb but could not find the body. They also add that the women had then returned saying they had seen a vision of angels telling them that he was alive. The men in turn had then gone to the tomb and found it exactly as the women had described it – though they did not see Jesus either. The disciples were demonstrating yet again their inability to grasp the truth or to trust other people. Jesus respects our inherent weaknesses. His discretion depicts an understanding that our inchoate faith needs time to develop, and he gives us ample opportunity to seize the truth.

This discreet and soft-spoken God who reveals himself to his disciples is the God who walks along with us on our journey through life. He does not demand that we bow our heads before him. He is the God who talks to us; he does not cast spells on us. He is one who challenges our beliefs and deeds; he does not peremptorily approve or disapprove of our actions. He explains the Word to us; he does not shield himself from us behind an infinite and haughty silence. He allows us to open our eyes to the truth gradually; he does not wish to blind us with flashes. This is the essence of the God of the New Testament that Christians believe in. Jesus does not compromise on the truth. He challenges us to abide by it. However, he also knows our human weaknesses and gives us the necessary space to choose the path of truth and righteousness - if we opt to do so.

This week, many local Christians in the Holy Land celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some of them went to Emmaus to celebrate holy mass and to break bread with the whole community there. Perhaps as we recall the story of Emmaus during the season of paschal celebrations, it might help us to open ourselves up to Jesus’ teachings and to be vulnerable to his sense of discreet persuasion. We need not always hide behind our own firewalls of suspicion, reluctance, fear, apathy and self-protection. Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti! Hallelujah!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2000   |   April


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