Rosalba Manes - "Then their eyes were opened" (Lk 24:31)

Rosalba Manes.jpg

Then their eyes were opened (Lk 24:31)

They came to a halt with sorrowful faces,

the light faded from their eyes,

hope buried deep down in their hearts.

Steps were treading the ground,

but they lacked energy,

and you could hardly hear their stride,

but only the sigh of sadness...

I stood by their side, but their eyes were veiled,

closed within the stifling contemplation of their failure,

in the deathly idolatry of their wounds.

They felt deceived

by someone who, according to them,

promised liberation,

but then he went on to betray them.

Their memory was too short

to remember his words

and to find in the Scriptures

the thread of the divine presence

that does not impose itself on the world

by the sword and bullying,

but that comes with gentle proximity.

And I went up close to them,

like the Samaritan to the man wounded by the brigands.

I disinfected their ear, mind and heart

and their spirit was rekindled with new understanding.

The word and the bread broken for them

that reopened their eyes, gave them strength and placed wings on their feet

to be athletes of the resurrection.

This composition in poetic form serves as an introduction to our reading of the gospel passage about the disciples of Emmaus. It takes us along a path starting with an absence of energy to becoming athletes of the resurrection. This is precisely the goal that Sacred Scripture offers young people. They are to become athletes of Christ’s resurrection, filled with the energy of the Spirit that comes from the Word, from the Eucharist and from communion with others. Let us now go to our gospel passage from Luke 24:13-35 and to the light it provides for the journey of accompanying young people.

Young people in search of meaning

The events that happened that Easter shocked the followers of Jesus to the point that some of them decided to forget their experience of discipleship and to return to the way of life they had lived before. Discouragement can take over when people feel hurt by an experience on which they had been projecting so many expectations but that left them with a bitter taste in their mouths.

The evangelist Luke speaks to us in particular of two disciples who leave Jerusalem behind and take the road for home. They had been attracted by Jesus’ words and they had decided to follow him. They had invested all their messianic hopes in him. After his crucifixion and death, however, there was nothing to keep them in the holy city. There was only disappointment and sadness because of an unsuccessful operation. They had not let themselves be guided by a divine promise that goes beyond human plans, but by a religious and political venture that had failed miserably ...

It is time to forget, to return to the certainties of the past, a time when the meaning of life was dictated not by the desire for communion with God but by the need for means of subsistence and a future of well-being. There is a regression from the oxygen of a desire for eternal life to the suffocation of material needs having to be satisfied.

1.     Overcome reticence

Lk 24:13Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.

The two disciples who leave Jerusalem head for Emmaus, a town not far away (perhaps 7 km), but still difficult to identify today. The return journey begins, but it is not accompanied by silence, but by words that defy death, that want to cling to life despite the sadness that has taken over their hearts. The two speak. They talk about everything that has happened in the holy city. They want to talk, perhaps because silence frightens them or perhaps because, while they are disconnecting themselves from the experience that has disappointed them, they still feel strongly attached to it. Their discourse has particular features. Luke uses the verbs omiléo, “to talk”, which also belongs in a liturgical context in the sense of “to pray”, and syzetéo, “to seek together”, which is the tendency to converse in order to arrive at a common solution. It is the grace of sharing while keeping hearts connected to one another.

2.     Counter loneliness and bewilderment

Lk 24:15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

The two disciples speak, but their words are not only breath. They testify to the fact that there is still a breath of life in their grieving hearts. It becomes sound and someone is listening to it, intercepting it and stimulating it. A stranger is listening to them and he approaches them so that they can involve him in their exchange. A foreigner, the Risen Lord, who is the foreigner par excellence, invites them to tell their story so that they can bring out their pain and deliver it, because it is in telling that they can have their say and have it said.

Jesus himself joins them and accompanies them on their way. But they do not recognise him. Their eyes are even incapable of doing so. Jesus then takes part in the conversation and asks for information about what has happened in Jerusalem. This surprises them both and gives rise to a feeling of sadness.

3.     Tap into joys and sorrows

Lk 24:17They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

The stranger is presumed to be a foreigner unaware of the facts. He plays along and asks for explanations. They stop and express their sadness that has just found a place where it can be handed over and delivered ‒ the ear, the heart and the time of that pilgrim. Christus Vivit tells us that the first kind of sensitivity is directed to the individual. It is a matter of listening to someone who is sharing his very self in what he says. A sign of this willingness to listen is the time we are ready to spare for others. More than the amount of time we spend, it is about making others feel that my time is their time, that they have all the time they need to say everything they want. The other person must sense that I am listening unconditionally, without being offended or shocked, tired or bored. We see an example of this kind of listening in the Lord; he walks alongside the disciples on the way to Emmaus, even though they are going in the wrong direction (cf. Lk 24:13-35) (no. 292).

Then begins a brief account of the ministry of Jesus and of how they followed him. It is a story of hope, but that hope had been completely extinguished by the crucifixion and had not been restored by the accounts of the empty tomb. They speak of Jesus of Nazareth, not knowing that he is there beside them and is listening to them with his own ears. They speak of Jesus, but without evangelising. They relate a gospel without joy, in a cold, almost distant way. It is as if they have surrendered to giving a news report without any emotional involvement. In their account Jesus is “a prophet powerful in word and deed” before God and people, condemned by the high priests and leaders to an infamous death, that of crucifixion. This was a bitter disappointment for those who, like them, hoped that this acclaimed prophet would free Israel. It all seems to be over. Yet there is more...

They also tell of visionary women who were told by some angels that Jesus is alive, and of disciples who arrived at the tomb and found that his body was not there, or at least, they did not see it. The two are so tied to the hope of the redemption of Israel that the aspect of mystery does not call their attention. It does not prompt them to try to find out for themselves or to examine the possibility of the resurrection.

4.     Foster enthusiasm for Scripture

Lk 24:25He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

After listening to them and allowing them to express all their bitterness and nonsense, Jesus then begins to speak. He interprets the prophetic scriptures to show them the intimate connection between the sacred writings and his life. He criticises intellectual and sentimental efforts to explain the narrative of salvation history. The Messiah foretold by the prophets is not a military leader, nor a political leader, nor a religious or spiritual leader. The Messiah who was prophesied in the Scriptures of Israel is different from any stereotype. He loves donkeys rather than horses, he takes away chariots and battle bows (cf. Zech 9:9), and he is the one who takes upon himself human pain and suffering (cf. Is 53:4) so that everyone may experience the glory of God. Jesus invites us to move on from a vision of suffering as the end of all things to a redemptive and healing suffering, for it is not the last word but rather the beginning of a new creation.

Jesus’ hermeneutics [way of interpreting] is to remove the outer shell of the words and to go beyond the letter to grasp their spirit. It is the ministry of preaching and teaching in the Church that illuminates the eyes of the heart. The mystery of the death of Jesus can only be read in the light of the Scriptures of Israel as they provide the right hermeneutics. The Torah, Prophecy and Wisdom contain knowledge of the human that is fulfilled in Christ. Here a word of command gives direction, a word of prophecy is used to bring about change, and a word of wisdom rereads history. Jesus is not in the tomb behind a stone that closes off the past, but in the Scriptures that are filled with hope and bearers of the future that he alone has come to fulfil (cf. Lk 4:21).

Jesus confirms the words of Scripture and highlights their sensus plenior [fuller meaning]. The Christ-event, that is, all the events connected with his person, confirms the salvific action of the God of Israel in the past, a sign that his death on the Cross is the maximum giving of God to humankind. It is in keeping with God’s original intention to give himself to humanity with love that goes right to the end.

5.     The art of discernment

Lk 24:28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them .30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

Jesus’ interpretation of the Scriptures exerts such fascination on the two disciples from Emmaus that, even though they have reached their destination, they do not want to say goodbye to this stranger.

‘Jesus-hermeneutic’ enkindles a new light for the disciples. Then, when they are almost at Emmaus, he makes as if to leave. The two of them react immediately and invite him to stay ‒ Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over (Lk 24:29). For whom is nightfall a problem? For Jesus or for the two disciples? What drives them to keep this bizarre stranger with them? Is it because, although he seems unaware of the latest events in Jerusalem, he knows the Scriptures so well and explains them in a way that attracts and fascinates? So they invite him to stay and share a meal with them, a sacred moment in Eastern culture. This will help him to regain his strength and will seal the bond of friendship.

Christus Vivit tells us that when Jesus says he plans to go farther, they realize that he has given them the gift of his time, so they decide to give him theirs by offering their hospitality. Attentive and selfless listening is a sign of our respect for others, whatever their ideas or their choices in life (no. 292).

The presence of that stranger overcame the sadness and disappointment that reigned in their hearts. The least they can do, therefore, is to invite him to their table where gratitude soon turns into recognition. The Risen Lord performs the gestures of supper and then the two recognise him. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them (Lk 23:30). These words remind them of another meal ‒ And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk 22:19,20).

Here before them they no longer have an unknown guest. Here is the crucified one whom the tomb could not hold back and who stayed with his people by becoming word and bread. The fractio panis [breaking of the bread] releases all the fragrance of Christ’s gift. He will vanish, but he has enkindled the fire of faith in the two disciples with which they can warm the chilling cold of life and inflame the world. The art of discernment begins, the ability to detect the fragrance of the presence of the Risen Lord in history.

6.     Prepare people for joyful proclamation

Lk 24:31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

The risen Jesus explains the Scriptures and breaks bread, and their eyes open not just to see, but to recognise. Even before their eyes were opened, however, their hearts had already begun to awaken ‒ Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us? (Lk 24:32).

The awakening begins when their hearts start to burn, that is to say, they welcome the fire that Christ has brought to earth (cf. Lk 12:49) and its flames that will spread with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Scripture remains sealed and locked if it does not have the light that emanates from the event of Christ’s death and resurrection. That event brings to fullness the covenant bond and it reveals an outpouring of forgiveness that is not reserved to only a few but is for everyone. If all of this potential is to be unfolded in history, it will need narrators, accredited witnesses who can traverse history “sacramentally” and open it up to transcendence, that is, by living it and rekindling it. The Word preached and Bread broken will in fact become the pillars of the Eucharistic celebration that people can only share in faith.

After awakening their faith, Jesus vanishes from the sight of the two disciples who return quickly from Emmaus to Jerusalem.  The Risen Lord’s departure is an indication that his permanent presence in the world is ensured through the Eucharistic liturgy.

After their meeting with the Risen Lord, their disappointment gives way to wonder. Both of them had been troubled on their outward journey, but now they are hurrying with joy to Jerusalem to reconnect with the Eleven and the others to give praise. They sing of the Resurrection and of the appearance to Simon! They tell the story of a journey that was not only on the physical level but that was also an inner journey, one that took place in the company of the Risen Lord who preferred to listen than to reprimand, and to give a spectacular demonstration of hermeneutics that is subtle and gradual.

We now see the inner transformation of the disciples who are no longer captive to miraculous signs. The gesture of bread being broken dispels any idolatrous expectation of symbols and allows the disciples to say what is essential, to take the road again and to return to their companions to communicate to them that the Master is alive.

The disciples thus pass from despondency to enthusiasm, from the need to see signs to the desire to listen to the word, from the expectation of a messiah who is a harbinger of political or social revolution and capable of sweeping away from Israel every hostile presence, to the acceptance of the gift of Christ’s love that impels them to return home, to Jerusalem, to be among others, in a fruitful and joyful climate of praise and communion.

Christus Vivit tells us that the person who accompanies must disappear to let the young person follow the discovered path, vanish as the Lord did from the sight of his disciples in Emmaus, leaving them alone with burning hearts and an irresistible desire to set out immediately (no. 296).

Luke 24:13-35 was cited in the Final Document of the Synod and then in Christus Vivit. It takes this gospel passage as its starting point and invites us to discover and savour the beautiful experience of knowing that we are always accompanied (no. 156). It likens pastoral work to a process that is gradual, respectful, patient, trusting, tireless and compassionate (no. 236). It speaks of the importance of focusing attention on the person and of listening attentively to what he or she has to share (no. 292). It invites the mentor to disappear so that young people may enthusiastically follow the path discovered (no. 296).

This biblical passage gives us invaluable insights into how to prepare ourselves in the delicate art of accompanying young people. Young people, as Christus Vivit reminds us, are central figures in the life of the Church as well as in Scripture. In the biblical pages dedicated to young people, emphasis is placed on the following:

‒        the ability to dream, foresight, the ability to administer and correct others without resorting to revenge (see Joseph, son of Jacob, Gen 37 - 47);

‒        docility in listening to and obeying the Lord who speaks [see Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:9,10)];

‒        the courage and strength of faith that enable achievements that are beyond our own capabilities [see David whose story shows that “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (cf. 1 Sam 16:7)];

‒        the capacity to see beyond the visible (see the young Jeremiah, cf. Jeremiah 1);

‒        the ability to yearn for more (see the rich young man in Matthew 19 who, however, goes away sad when he realises that he does not need to add “observances” but must learn to give and to give himself and thus leave behind his boyhood);

‒        the ability to retrace our steps and change course in order to establish a new relationship with God and with others (see the younger son in the parable in Luke 15).

To discover your qualities as a young person in Christ in the light of this Gospel passage, you can ask yourself: What is my contact with the Scriptures? How much and how do I read them? What does it mean for me to celebrate the Eucharist and experience ecclesial communion? Am I willing to be accompanied in my life by someone, a man or a woman, who will help me to “detect the fragrance” of the presence of the Risen Lord on my path?

I encourage you to be completely open to the Breath of the Spirit that blows the sails of your life. Equip yourselves as best you can for this journey so that you can fulfil your bright destiny as “athletes of the resurrection” of Christ that spread the fragrance of new life in the deserts of the world.

Rosalba Manes

Pontifical Gregorian University

20 giugno 2019