p. Luis CASASUS | President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, April 23, 2023 | Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14.22-33; 1Pt 1: 17-21; Lk 24: 13-35.
This Sunday’s Gospel brings us one of the most beautiful and interesting encounters of Christ, from which we can learn a lot if we look closely at the protagonists: the two disciples on the road and Jesus himself. First of all, let us see the attitude of the Master, how he acts, and let us not remain in a sterile admiration, but let us meditate on the possible way to imitate Him, to act like Him in our encounter with people.
If we do this reflection, we will probably learn something more about how to treat the people we live with every day or those that God places in our path so that we can share our faith with them.
1. The first thing Jesus does is to walk with the disciples, to approach them, to join them in the simplest, most natural way. He was sympathetic to their attitude, as they had to return home to help their families with the harvest, in the midst of their disappointment and sense of tragic failure. If they are walking, He starts walking too. He enters their world, as He entered the world of the fishermen of Galilee, or of the Samaritan woman who went to fetch water, while the disciples preferred to go about their business and… went to buy food.
Jesus carefully anticipates this encounter and is willing to stay and eat with the two disciples, that is, to share more than a hurried conversation. Surely you and I say too many times, to too many people, that we are in a hurry, “we’ll talk another day.”
2. He asks questions. He is interested in the doubts, the hesitations, the details and details of their concerns. He listens and tries to understand what lies beyond the words and the perhaps awkward and confused words and expressions of the two wayfarers. He does not rush, as we sometimes do, exposing our ideas, our own concerns, our knowledge. Many of us are used to ending a dialogue about any fact with the unfortunate expression: I thought so. We do not place much value on the perspective, opinion or impression of others.
3. What do we need in times of pain and difficulty? Arid philosophical, moral and theological doctrines are not always the most opportune. Of course, more important than brilliant reasoning is to set our hearts on fire again. That is what Jesus was able to do with Cleopas and the other disciple.
Almost always, this is achieved by illuminating the best of the other person, what he or she can do for others and, ultimately, for God Himself. Pure ecstasy. Perhaps we talk too much about correction and formation (who can deny that they are indispensable?), but the center of our apostolic life is to lead the person to make real the purest, most complete ecstasy: to give one’s life with the indispensable help of Christ. This is what the two disciples eventually did.
4. At the right moment, in the right way, Christ shares with the disciples what is most intimate to him. He blesses the bread, breaks it and gives it to them. This is enormously significant and symbolic. We, perhaps, miss opportunities to give to others what is most precious to us; our relationship with many people is no more than superficial, formal and meaningless. Sometimes because of fear, sometimes because of lack of prayer and often because we forget that we are ambassadors of Christ.
5. At one point, Christ disappears from the scene. Another lesson for us. Although in his case, He is certainly the center, He leaves room for the disciples’ energy, inspiration and responsibility to unfold. How often we do not do so, creating in others an affective dependence, or -worse still- abusing their generosity or obedience, or distrusting their abilities. Jesus knew how to accompany them at the appropriate moments, respecting and promoting their freedom, without ever abandoning them.
And what can we learn from the two disciples?
In the first place, we must be aware that we find ourselves in situations similar to theirs and, therefore, take good note of how Providence acts in such cases, without forgetting that they accepted in an exemplary way what Christ instructed them to do.
6. Of course, the most remarkable thing about this encounter, on the part of the two pilgrims, is that after walking and conversing for several hours with Jesus, they could not recognize him.
But the Risen One is not recognizable: someone thinks of seeing a ghost; Mary Magdalene takes him for a gardener; by the lake, He is considered a fisherman…
Theological explanations can be given, but more interesting for us is the realization that, as we have just said, we, you and I, are not so different from those two disciples and probably do not fully understand the words of Christ when he says: Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me (Mt 25: 40):
Of course, the most vulnerable, the abandoned, the lonely, all those we sometimes ignore, are Christ’s little brothers. BUT also those whom we would not call prophets, envoys or spiritual masters and yet God places at my side to transmit his will to me, to reveal to me his desires and to gently suggest to me what I should do in his name.
If we knew who it is that comes and why He comes, and would take the blessing He brings to us, what victorious lives we would live!
7. We read in the Gospel text that the apostles recognized Jesus precisely when He was disappearing from their sight. In reality, this happens to us many times with divine and human persons. We are not able to perceive the good that we receive from many people until the moment of their death. That is why, not only out of politeness, the deceased are spoken of with eulogies. No matter how many defects and no matter how mediocre – or even vicious – the conduct of a human being may be, Providence will give us a light through him/her. Sometimes with pain and sometimes with deep joy.
8. These two walking disciples knew how to be faithful to the teaching they had received and, in spite of their unbelief and discouragement, they allowed themselves to be moved by the Good News, by the Scriptures that Christ himself explained to them. This is an example for us, who perhaps listen to the Gospel coldly and simply with the impression that “we already know the text and have understood it“.
It can happen to us as it did to a certain parish priest who was quite self-confident literally bounded up the steps into the pulpit one Sunday, filled with self-esteem. Unfortunately, he lost his way in the middle of his address, became quite confounded, and forgot his message. As he came down from the pulpit humiliated, an old man who had been present in the church that morning said to him: Young man, if you had gone up the way you came down, you would have been able to have come down the way you went up.
These men did know about Christ’s promise of rising on the third day. They had heard that morning the message of the women who had seen the empty tomb and the angels. Things had been sufficiently clear for them to have nourished their faith and their hope; but instead, they speak of Christ as belonging to the past, as a lost opportunity. They are a living picture of discouragement. Their minds are in darkness and their hearts are numbed. It is possible that we too may sometimes meet with discouragement and lack of hope because of defects that we cannot manage to root out, or of difficulties in the apostolate or in our work that seem to be insurmountable.
On these occasions, provided we allow ourselves to be helped, Jesus will not allow us to be parted from him. Perhaps it will be in spiritual direction, or perhaps in a trivial and unforeseen encounter or event, that we will come to see Him again.
What would have happened if the two disciples had not invited Jesus to stay with them? It is impossible to know, but we can appreciate that they were able to overcome their discouragement and their impression that all was lost by accepting the help of the mysterious wayfarer. Many of us have difficulty accepting help or advice from others.
We are convinced that no one can help us in certain difficult moments and our pride prevents Providence from acting through other people, whom we distrust because they seem too young, too old, too prudent or too impulsive. We think that our difficulty is unique, that no one else has gone through similar moments, that the pain of others is not comparable to our pain and that the words of others will never be able to help us.
There is a moment of ironic humor when Jesus asks the disciples why they are so sad, and they answer “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Far from being the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what happened, He was actually the only person in Jerusalem who understood exactly what was happening. Fortunately, the two disciples were open to dialogue…
Finally, let us remember what the Gospel says immediately after today’s text: While the two were telling them this, suddenly the Lord himself stood among them and said to them: Peace be with you. (Lk 24: 36).
Apart from the historical importance of that moment, we can understand that, in the midst of our awkwardness, hesitation and mediocrity, Christ becomes present as soon as we sincerely testify to what he has done in us. This involves confessing our weakness, our fear and our doubts… and then telling how we have been healed.
We should imitate blind Bartimaeus (Mk 10: 45-52), who was not intimidated by the crowd or by his own ignorance. He had to tell of his encounter with Christ. That is also the lesson of Cleopas and his companion for those of us who are aspiring apostles.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,