This is a kind of reverse reversal story. Much of Luke’s Gospel is about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, but these two disciples, possibly a husband and wife, are leaving Jerusalem. They are on the road to Emmaus, but it’s not like that were going anywhere in particular, they are simply leaving Jerusalem, because for them the story of Jesus had ended, and it ended badly, it ended in tragedy. The one in whom they had placed their hope for the redemption of Israel was rejected and crucified.
But then something happens. They meet a stranger along the way. And as a result of this encounter, hope is reborn, a new faith is ignited that reverses the reversal – that turns them around and sets them on a new direction.
How many times has the direction of your life changed because of an encounter with God, because you met the living Christ? Hopefully, at least once. Possibly, many times.
This appearance story, I believe, sketches out the contexts where such encounters can occur, where we are likely to meet the risen Christ.
We are reminded again how elusive the risen Christ can be. Here and gone, and not immediately recognizable. But all is not happenchance.
The stranger asks about the events that took place in Jerusalem and then begins to open the Scriptures to them. Luke says, “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”
Critical and central to our life together and our ongoing ministry and mission is the reading and appropriation of our scared texts. And this story seems to highlight and focus on the key to a faithful, authentic, and transformative Christian reading of these texts.
Luke says, “He interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures.” The story of Jesus is the story through which all other stories in our Scriptures must be filtered. As followers of Jesus we read and assess our Scriptures through the lens of the sacred tradition of Jesus.
When we engage Scripture in this way we can avoid two pitfalls. The pitfall on the left is the pitfall of biblical apathy and indifference. The temptation here is to be dismissive of Scripture, to push it out on the edge, diminishing its significance for our spiritual journey. This, I think, is a temptation for some in the Catholic tradition who tend to ascribe more authority to their church tradition than Scripture and some in the more liberal Protestant traditions who give little weight to Scripture, but generally, this is not our struggle is it? We are generally not dismissive of Scripture.
What we have to avoid is the pitfall on the right. This is the temptation to elevate our sacred texts to divine status, to make them infallible. We must avoid the pitfall of bibliolatry.
Because I frequently warn Christians about this pitfall, sometimes in a public forum, occasionally I will get hammered by those on the right who believe it is the literal word of God. The most common argument I hear is: If you can’t trust the Bible in one area, then you can’t trust the Bible at any area, you might as well throw out the whole thing.
That is such a weak argument. Have you ever spoken an untruth to your spouse, something that was not true? Have you? Well, of course you have. You may not have intended it to be untrue, maybe you were passing on what was passed on to you or perhaps you misheard something that was told you. You didn’t mean to, it was inadvertent, but nevertheless you were wrong.
Or maybe you were intentional. Maybe there was a reason you were not completely honest. I don’t suppose you ever told your spouse what he or she wanted to hear, because you were just in no mood at the time to deal with the issue with all its ramifications? I know you would never do that would you?
Does this mean that because you were inadvertently wrong or because on a particular occasion you smudged the truth that you can never be trusted again? Is that grounds for divorce?
The Bible did not float down from heaven on the wings of angels. No matter how we understand inspiration, these are human documents written by fallible human beings.
So how do we judge and assess the value of our sacred texts and the authority we should give them in our faith community and our personal lives? This Lukan story suggest that we filter all the biblical stories through our primary story – the story of Jesus.
We must ask of every biblical text: Does this text bear witness to the gospel of Jesus? Does this Scripture bear witness to the unconditional love of God and the universal call to restorative justice embodied in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Sometimes the Scripture stands in opposition to the gospel of Jesus.
This means that any authentic reading, any redemptive interpretation and appropriation of Scripture will always be tilted and biased toward the virtues and values that Jesus embodied, taught, lived, and died for.
Reading our Scriptures through the lens of the story of Jesus provides a context for meeting the living Christ and for encountering a living word, but more is needed. Even after the Scripture was expounded, the two disciples still did not recognize him did they? Jesus was still hidden to them.
As they journey on, it gets late and Jesus walks ahead of them as if he were going on. But they urge him to stay. They welcome him to their table. They share their food with him. Luke says: “When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”
Certainly there is an allusion here to Holy Communion. When the early followers gathered to worship they would share a meal together and observe Holy Communion – it was central to their worship. But of course, it was not just the ritual itself, it was what the ritual signified and pointed to.
Just as Jesus’ body was broken on the cross, they knew it was their responsibility to share their broken lives with one another, to make themselves vulnerable, to be open and honest and humble as they cared for and shared their resources as well as their very lives with one another.
And just as Jesus’ life was poured out even unto death for the good of others, just as Jesus invited all manner of strangers to the table, they knew that it was there responsibility to pour out their lives in the service of others, welcoming the marginalized and disenfranchised, and serving the outcasts and downtrodden.
They knew that in the sharing of their broken lives with one another, and in the sacrificial giving of their selves in compassion and service to others, they would meet the living Christ.
Neil Steinberg, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, tells about hearing Sister Rosemary Connelly give a talk. She founded Misericordia, Chicago’s pre-eminent home for those with Down Syndrome and other cognitive disabilities.
Her original mission was to care for disabled children who were dumped by their distraught mothers on the doorsteps of Catholic churches. Then, when they turned 6, she was to hand them over to state care. But when Sister Rosemary saw the awful conditions in these state run places, she refused. She demanded the archdiocese do something. It sort of shrugged and gave her the newly shuttered Angel Guardian Orphanage, which eventually became the 31-acre state of the art Misericordia home. She has been tireless in her efforts as advocate, fundraiser, and cheerleader.
On this day, she told a story about a mother who called her in despair. She was crying. She told Sister Rosemary: “I’m a single mother. I have a 15-year-old boy who can do nothing for himself, and he’s too heavy for me to lift. The only place I’ll ever bring him to is Misericordia.” Sister Rosemary had to tell her that didn’t have any room and there was a 600 person waiting list.
Sister Rosemary told the audience: “It was heart breaking. She could no longer lift him. She was worrying about his future. She didn’t know what she was going to do. And I very piously told her that he was God’s child, even before hers, and she had to trust.”
Somehow, without violating her self-imposed rules against showing favoritism, she was able to help. Perhaps how is less important than why.
Sister Rosemary said, “I saw her wheel this boy down the hall, going back to a very depressing situation, and I said to myself: Who’s God but us? If we don’t do it, it’s not going to happen.”
Who’s God but us? If we don’t do it, how is God going to get it done?
Paul said, “to live is Christ.” He said, “it is no longer I (the little I, the ego-driven I) who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” One of Paul’s disciples said, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” — not our own personal glory, but the glory of the cosmos, the glory of the world. We are God’s hope for the world – God in us, Christ in us, the Spirit in us, empowering us to bear God’s image and do God’s work.
Who’s God but us? Where is God in the world doing good work, but in us?
Where do we look for the risen Christ? We can look for him in our sacred Scriptures and, particularly, in the sacred tradition of Jesus that functions as the key to unlocking all the Scripture, that functions as the filter for our assessment of the redemptive value of Scripture for our lives and communities. We can look for him there.
We can look for him in our worship together, our singing and praying together, in the preaching and teaching of Scripture, our eating the bread and drinking the cup. We should look for Christ there.
But if that is where it ends, if that is as far as our journey takes us, then we will still find the risen Christ elusive, hidden, concealed. If Christ is to be recognized, if we are to see and experience the power that raised him up, if we are to know him intimately and experience his compassion and love, then we must keep going, we must journey farther, and not let Christ go until he shows himself to us.
Where do we find Christ? We will find Christ at the intersection of our broken lives, where mutual sharing and caring take place, where we expose our frail, weak, vulnerable selves to one another. There we will find Christ.
We will find Christ in those places where the hurt, pain, loss, misery, and desperation of the world intersects with our compassion and love, where bread is shared with the hungry and the stranger is welcomed to the table. There we will meet the Christ.
Where can we meet Christ? We can meet him in those places where we cross borders and tear down boundaries to welcome the marginalized and excluded and all manner of folks others have despised. There we will meet Christ.
We can expect to meet Christ where ever we stand up for those taken advantage of and treated unfairly, where we challenge and confront the powerful domination systems that create pecking orders that decide who’s in and out.
Sisters and brothers, in the breaking and sharing of our lives and the giving of ourselves to one another and our world, we meet the risen Christ.
Who’s God, who’s Christ, but us?
Gracious God, so often we walk along life’s path not even recognizing that you are with us, unaware of the direction or the place where you want to lead us. May we meet you in the faces of our sisters and brothers as we study the Scriptures and worship together, and share our broken lives with one another. May we meet the Christ in the lives of all those we invest our lives in and in these encounters may we find strength and hope. Amen.