Reflections on Luke 24:25-33
By Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio S. David (Bishop of Kalookan)
February 10, 2018
We all know from the book of Exodus that Moses encountered God in a burning bush while he was tending sheep during his brief sojourn in Midian. Actually, I don’t think that was the first time Moses had heard God’s call. In fact, I think the reason why he left Egypt and ended up in Midian was precisely because he was already feeling God’s call. Before he encountered that fire that spoke to him in the burning bush at Midian, he had already felt some kind of fire burning within him whenever he witnessed the persecution of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. It was precisely that fire in his belly that had gotten him into trouble; he could not bear the sight of a Hebrew slave being beaten up by an Egyptian taskmaster. It was just too much for him “to see the affliction of these people, to hear their cry, to know well how they suffered”. And so he ran away.
It wasn’t because he had committed a crime. He was running away from the call. He was like the prophet Jonah who was called to preach to the Ninevites but went the opposite way and took a boat to Tarshish instead. Same with Moses. Though instead of landing in the belly of a whale, he landed in the desert region of Midian. He married a girl, had a son with her, and found a job shepherding for his father-in-law. But just when he thought he had found his peace, God disturbed him again.
The story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is a bit like that too. They were not just travelling casually. They were also running away. They had slipped out of Jerusalem, afraid that they too would end up on the cross like their master who had just been executed as a criminal. They were depressed and disillusioned that the man they had regarded as their Messiah ended up as a failure.
They make me imagine a disoriented athlete who is running for the finish line but going to the opposite direction. They remind me also of a song by Diana Ross: “DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU’RE GOING TO?” Not all people do; especially when they are depressed and disillusioned. There’s an old legend about St. Peter himself escaping from persecution in Rome, and having a vision of Jesus. He encountered him bearing his cross again but going to the opposite direction. Peter supposedly asked Jesus in Latin, “Where are you going, Lord?” The Lord supposedly said, “Back to the city, Peter, in order to die again”. And he found himself making an about face, to go back to Rome and die a martyr’s death.
This is what Easter is about: not about finding chocolate eggs and bunnies. It is rather about an unassuming encounter with the resurrected Christ in the strangers that come into our lives, like fellow travelers.
There’s a funny scene in the story when Jesus joins their conversation and asks what they’re discussing. They tell the story of Jesus to Jesus, but they tell it as a dark and tragic story. Later, Jesus would retell the story but differently—with a happy ending. An old friend who has passed away already, the film director, MDA, once told us that as a professional story teller, her main reference book for the art of storytelling is the Bible. She said she could not imagine telling a good story in her films if it did not have a happy ending. There are no stories worth telling, she said, except stories of redemption. Inspired by what she called the Bible’s “greatest story ever told” she came up with the following motto as a film director: “I believe in happy endings. If the story is not happy, then it’s not yet the end”.
Scriptures help us tell and retell our tragic stories into good news. Only if we allow our own stories to be connected to the story of Jesus can they reach their happy endings: the triumph of unconditional love, of good over evil, of life over death.
We are often at a loss on how to bring the good news to people in contemporary times. I suggest that this text from Luke has all the necessary practical elements that we need to learn on how to carry out our mandate to evangelize:
1) That we follow the way of unassuming fellow traveler who began by drawing near to the disciples, walking with them and entering into their conversation.
2) That we listen with empathy to their often tragic stories and help them make sense of their otherwise absurd experiences by revisiting them with new eyes in the light of the Scriptures.
3) By spending a bit more time with them in their darkness and breaking bread with them to lead them to a moment of recognition of the Risen Lord in their midst.
4) By helping them retrace their steps back to Jerusalem, to reunite with the community of disciples they had run away from with a new fire that transforms fear into courage, sadness into joy.
I wish you the Easter blessings of joy, peace and new life in Jesus our Lord and Savior.