Hope & The Road To Emmaus
Today I would like to reflect on the experience of the two disciples of Emmaus, of which Luke’s Gospel speaks (Cf. 24:13-35). Let us imagine the scene: two men are walking disappointed, sad, convinced of leaving behind them the bitterness of an event that ended badly. Before that Passover they were full of enthusiasm: convinced that those days would have been decisive for their expectations and for the hope of all the people. Jesus, to whom they had entrusted their life, seemed to have arrived finally to the decisive battle: now He would have manifested His power, after a long period of preparation and hiddenness. This is what they were expecting, and it was not so.
The two pilgrims nourished only a human hope, which was now shattered. That cross, raised on Calvary, was the most eloquent sign of a defeat, which they had not foreseen. If that Jesus was truly according to God’s heart, they had to conclude that God was helpless, defenseless in the hands of the violent, incapable of opposing resistance to evil.
So, that Sunday morning, these two fled from Jerusalem. In their eyes they still had the events of the Passion, Jesus’ death; and in their mind the painful vexation of those events, during the obligatory rest of the Sabbath. That Passover feast, which should intone the song of liberation, was transformed, instead, into the most painful day of their life. They left Jerusalem to go elsewhere, to a tranquil village. They had all the aspect of persons intent on removing a searing memory. So they are on the road, and walk, sad.
This scene – the road – was already important in the Gospel accounts; now it would become even more so, at the moment in which the history of the Church begins to be told.
Jesus’ encounter with those two disciples seems to be altogether fortuitous: it is like the many crossroads that happen in life. The two disciples are walking deep in thought and someone unknown comes beside them. It is Jesus, but their eyes are unable to recognize Him. And then Jesus begins His “therapy of hope.” What happens on this road is a therapy of hope. Who does it? Jesus.
First of all, He asks and listens: our God is not an invading God. Although He already knows the reason of the disappointment of those two, He gives them the time to be able to fathom the depth of the bitterness that has befallen them. A confession issues from it that is a refrain of human existence: “We had hoped but . . . We had hoped but . . .“ (v. 21). How much sadness, how many defeats, how many failures there are in the life of every person! At bottom we are all somewhat like those two disciples. How many times in life we have hoped, how many times we have felt one step away from happiness, and then we have found ourselves disappointed on earth. But Jesus walks with all disheartened persons who walk with their head lowered. And, walking with them in a discreet way, He succeeds in giving them hope again.
Jesus speaks to them first of all through the Scriptures. Whoever takes God’s Book in hand will not come across stories of easy heroism, lightning campaigns of conquest. True hope is never at a low price: it always passes through defeats. The hope of someone who does not suffer, perhaps is not even such. God does not like to be loved as one would love a leader, who drags his people to victory annihilating his adversaries in blood. Our God is a faint light that burns on a cold and windy day, and although His presence in this world seems fragile, He has chosen the place that we all disdain.
Then Jesus repeats for the two disciples the cardinal gesture of every Eucharist: He took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it. Is not the whole story of Jesus in this series of gestures? And is there not, in every Eucharist, also the sign of what the Church should be? Jesus takes us, blesses us, “breaks” our life – because there is no love without sacrifice – and offers it to others, to all.
Jesus’ encounter with the two disciples of Emmaus is fleeting, but in it is the whole destiny of the Church. It tells us that the Christian community is not shut-in in a fortified citadel, but walks in her most vital environment, namely the road. And there she encounters persons, with their hopes and their disappointments, sometimes heavy. The Church listens to everyone’s story, as they emerge from the chest of the personal conscience, to then offer the Word of life, the witness of the love of God, faithful love to the end. And then persons’ heart burns again with hope.
All of us have had difficult, dark moments in our life; moments in which we walked sad, deep in thought, without horizons, with only a wall before us. And Jesus is always beside us to give us hope, to warm our heart and say: “Go on, I am with you. Go on.” The secret of the road that leads to Emmaus is all here: even through contrary appearances, we continue to be loved, and God will never stop loving us. God will always walk with us, always, also in the most painful moments, also in the most awful moments, also in moments of defeat: the Lord is there. And this is our hope. We go on with this hope! Because He is beside us and walks with us, always!
General Audience of Pope Francis, May 24, 2017