Updated: Apr 28, 2020
The scene in today’s Gospel from Luke is one that seems as relevant today as it was nearly 2000 years ago: it is a story of evangelization.
Road to Emmaus - Luke 24:13-35
The scene in today’s Gospel from Luke is one that seems as relevant today as it was nearly 2000 years ago: it is a story of evangelization. We enter into the story and find two disciples on Easter morning, “the first day of the week” (Lk 24:13), walking on the road from Jerusalem to a small town called Emmaus. The stage is set for Our Lord to encounter them.
Jerusalem: A Place of Major Events
Before we can see why this is such a relevant story for our times, I think it is important to have some context for what is happening in this passage. For one thing, the whole world has just fallen apart for these disciples. Jesus has died. The hope they had has been crushed. Now, with no idea what to do, they have taken to the road in search of what comes next in their lives. Another thing to note is the importance of Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel. The Holy City is the place where major events happen. It is where Luke says the Presentation of Our Lord takes place (Lk 2:22), where Mary and Joseph find the Child Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:41), the venue for the Last Supper (Lk 19:28), and where Jesus will undergo His Passion. Jerusalem is at the center of all these events, and it is where Jesus is when His Hour arrives. From the beginning of his Gospel, Luke makes this abundantly clear when he writes, “He [Jesus] resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). So when we read that these disciples are journeying away from this place that has been so central throughout the story, our ears prick up. We want to yell at them, “You’re going the wrong way!”
Yet, it is precisely on their way out that Christ meets them. Notice that He does not stop them in their tracks and drag them back to Jerusalem. Rather, “Jesus himself drew near and walked with them” (Lk 24:15). Bishop Robert Barron, in a recent homily, points to this as the archetype and model for all evangelization in our times. Jesus’ approach is a subtle one. He does not stop them as they walk away from where they should be, but continues on walking in the wrong direction, side by side, with them. He does not immediately steer the conversation to where He wants it to go, rather, He enters into the discussion they are having among themselves. He does not begin to scold them for their error, instead he first asks questions and listens to their experience of the last several days. Jesus is not forceful, but He is intentional. He draws these two disciples out of themselves through an encounter with Himself. That’s the key to evangelization.
Friends, it is the Person of Jesus Christ and the personal encounter that each one of us has with Him that causes us, along with the two disciples on the road, to say, “Stay with us” (Lk 24:29). Oftentimes we find it difficult to walk alongside another who is walking in the wrong direction. We may be tempted to just wander aimlessly with them, with no real intention, hoping that God will magically make them see the Truth. It may be even more tempting to simply stop walking with them altogether in the hope that they will see the error of their ways and find their way back on their own. Certainly God can work that in His providence. That being said, as followers of Christ, and as those who strive to conform our lives to His, we ought to strive to follow His example of accompaniment. Yes, it is challenging. None of us will do it perfectly. But when we help the other to have an encounter with the Living Christ and allow them the space to let Jesus meet them where they are on the road they too will say, “Were not our hearts burning within us?”(Lk 24:32).