THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – April 30, 2017

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:14, 22-33
A reading from the first Letter of St. Peter 1:17-21
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 24:13-35

Dear Reader,

Have you ever noticed that the beginnings of faith often have to do with letting go of suppositions about Jesus?  As you started out you might have had to let go of so much as you dealt with disappointment.  Perhaps you thought you believed only to have an epiphany, as it were that told you that you had no idea.  Or better, you discovered that your preconceptions centered on such a limited portion of the truth and often involved misconceptions.  We are dealing with Mystery, after all, so, when you think about it why should that have been a surprise?

Today’s Gospel passages are among my favorites. I pray with it at least weekly.  Each time I find something new that is a marvel.  I turn to the passage in times of desolation.  I rest in it in times of elation.  I have come to accept that to be a believer means to journey with Jesus on the way.

Think about it.  When and where did your faith life begin?  What sustains it?

The two people on their way to Emmaus are introduced to us as disciples.  That designation means that they had made their decisions to follow, i.e., to be with Jesus.  These two are different from those who made up the crowds that milled around Jesus, listening to him, observing him in action, but remaining uncommitted.  We are given a hint about what the two thought about Jesus.  He was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.  His powerful preaching impressed them, and even more so by how his preaching translated into action.   They may well have concluded that there had never been another as wonderful as Jesus who could give them reason to hope during the oppressive times in which they were living.  Remember, they lived in a time of domination by Roman rule.  Jesus seemed to fit so many of the qualities that they expected to see exhibited in the one who would redeem Israel, that is, the one who would set Israel free from the oppressors.

What had gone wrong?  The two are conversing and debating about their Jesus experience.  Some things he said and did fit their preconceptions of the Messiah.  The poor did have the Good News preached to them.  It had been thrilling to see multitudes rapt in attention to his every word.  Some wanted to touch his clothes, believing in the power of contact with him.  There had been reports of miracles.  But then came the condemnation and crucifixion that seemed to reduce him to the status of a common criminal.  That was a concept not associated with the Messiah.

When you began to believe, what did you imagine Jesus would do for you?  There are not a few today who promote a Jesus who will bring wealth and power to those who turn their lives over to him.  Did such thought draw you to Jesus in the beginning?

The stranger that joins the two on their way to Emmaus invites them to go deeper into their disappointments.  He gives them an opportunity to acknowledge their grief, even as he invites them to let go of their assumptions and enter the new Way.  Don’t miss the important statement that their eyes were prevented from recognizing (Jesus).  It happens in Luke and John’s Gospels that disciples do not recognize the Resurrected One in their first encounters with him.  What is happening is, these disciples are coming to see him for the first time with insights that alter all their previous experiences of him.  Invariable there is much they must let go of.  Is it not curious that the two have heard the astounding news reported by some of the women in the group?  The empty tomb.  Angels announcing that he is alive.  Amazing news, yes, but not enough to convince them.

Hang on now.  There is an abrupt transition.  The Stranger does not mince words.  How foolish you are.  How slow of heart to believe!  They have missed the whole point of the mission and message.  The Jesus moment was one of God’s entering into the human experience, inviting people to live a new life.  It was as if God were saying again, in the words found in Hebrew Scriptures, Let me be your God and you will be my people.  God wants to live in a union that you could never have dreamed or imagined, if only you will not be embarrassed by this different kind of Messiah, different from your expectations.  This is the Christ who walks with you in faith.  Here is the shocking transition that, if accepted, alters forever the meaning and role of suffering in life.

The common belief regarding suffering was, and for many continues today to be, that suffering was a punishment for sin, either for one’s own sins or those of one’s ancestors.  The crucifixion was horrible, but worse was the obvious meaning assumed by many that God punished Jesus on the cross through the hands of those who drove in the nails and crowned him with thorns.  How foolish you are.  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?

Chew on that for a moment.  Unfortunately, we hear texts over and over again.  A Gospel is proclaimed.  We hear the opening words, know the rest of the story, and muse off about something else until the proclamation is over.  I remember looking out at the Assembly while reading the Gospel that spoke of Jesus’ calming the wind and the waves.   A woman yawned.  That startled me.  How could someone hear about the calming of gales and yawn?

So here, too.  What should shock us each time we hear it is, in a simple turn of phrase, suffering, far from being a punishment for sin, becomes a means of entering into glory.  Christ is a suffering Messiah.

Then what about disciples?  What comes to them if they follow Jesus?  The challenge is that Jesus must be all in all for them.  I wonder if the two disciples remembered that Jesus had warned that if they would be his disciples they would have to take up the cross every day and follow him.  Had they been present for the encounter between Jesus and the rich person who desired salvation?  That person had followed all the commandments from youth.  What more had to be done?  Go sell what you have and give to the poor.  Then come and follow me.  That person went away sad.  Giving up his wealth and becoming one with the poor was more than he could do.

The two disciples had to let go of their assumptions and preconceptions.  It is not an exaggeration to say that they had to go back to square one.  They had to read the scriptures in a new light.  They had to see that discipleship was not for self-aggrandizement but for imitating Jesus, loving as he loved.  There was so much that had to die if they were to live.  And there was the cross at the center of it all.

Isn’t it curious that with all the insights the Stranger shared with them, they still did not recognize him?  The recognition of the truth burning in their hearts did not remove the veil from their eyes.  That happened at the Table, not in the way that we might expect, but in how Christ’s abiding presence would be achieved.  The Brad is broken.  It is in the action of the Eucharist that they recognized the Risen One.  As soon as they did they are compelled to return to their community to tell the story and share the faith.

So it must be for us.  The Word lives in the proclamation.  As we are nourished at the table of the Word and our hearts burn with the recognition of the truth, we must go to the other Table and do Eucharist.  It is there we will recognize the Risen One and know his presence.  But it never stops there.  Celebrating Eucharist and sharing in that meal mean that we must then be sent to tell the Good News in word and action, loving others as we are loved.  And the Kingdom dawns.



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