Don't be a stranger

Published on 23 Apr 2020

You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days [1]. 

The stranger on the road to Emmaus seems out of touch to Cleopas and his fellow-disciple.  He does not know all about Jesus of Nazareth [2].  Yet it turns out that this ‘stranger’ who is walking by their side [3] is Jesus.  Something prevented them from recognising him [4].   What is it that impedes disciples, familiar with Christ for some time, from knowing who he is and understanding that he has risen from the dead?

The risen Lord does not conceal himself.  Known since before the world was made, he has been revealed… in our time, the end of the ages [5].  Yet, many, including his disciples, are not aware of his presence beside them.  If lack of faith is the best way to describe this obtuseness it nevertheless has quite diverse components.  It is not quite enough to conclude that we will know that the Lord is with us if we believe in him.  God raised him from the dead and gave him glory for that very reason –so that you would have faith [6].  The sort of faith that is needed is built up out of several different gifts.  I saw the Lord before me always [7].

The one for whom we are looking is not a Jesus who does not know the things that have been happening.  Part of his love for us is a compassionate knowledge of how we have been working with the gifts that he has given us.  This understanding of all of us is woven into the risen Lord’s authority over his own passion and death.  He carries his suffering of these last few days towards the eternal Father.  The marks of the wounds on the body of Christ, recognised by some of his disciples, are a reminded that his pains now have cosmic significance.  The ransom that was paid to free from a useless way of life...was paid in the precious blood of a lamb without spot or stain, namely Christ [8].   Our own troubles and the suffering of the world can henceforward be understood through the death and resurrection of the holy one. We are each the personal beneficiaries of the Lord’s sacrifice.  For you will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay [9].  Jesus seeks to lifts us up out of our frailty as he was lifted up first on the cross and then out of the tomb.

Deep down, we do not want Jesus to be a stranger to us.  Reassuringly, he conducts himself as we possessed the very clarity from which often shrink. The one who walks beside us lovingly insists that our life now be patterned on his, including his suffering.  This man…was put into your power by the deliberate intention and foreknowledge of God [10]. Something in us resists this and prompts us to look past or through the risen Christ. Instead of him, our attention lights on an imaginary stranger.  Instead of rejoicing at the resurrection we affect a mild exasperation at the ignorance of this traveller who is so foreign to us.  As we gradually come to realise, it is us, not our companion on the road, who are not seeing properly.  Jesus is truly with us and yet, perversely, we are contemplating someone else or some other centre of interest.  The faith which restores us to a right understanding enables us to focus on him and not another or some figment of the imagination. O Lord it is you who are my portion and cup: it is you yourself who are my prize [11].

The risen Lord rescues us from sorrow.  He confers on us a new life. We are transformed on the model of his own glorious renewal after suffering and death.  The faith we need concentrates on him and not on ourselves.  Yet, we hesitate. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free [12].  The tendency in us is to dwell on how we think things ought to have worked out.   How we had hoped that the Lord would save us is not, in fact, the way he rescues us.   Our disappointment obscures our vision.  Christ despatches sin and death with a certain panache but now he comes up against the sad, narrow expectations of his disciples.  The faith in him which might liberate us from the doubts and fears by which we are cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d [13] is both a turning away from foolishness and an embrace of the truth. You foolish men. So slow to believe the full message [14].

Faith in the risen Lord is a new attitude which we take up in all freedom.  Jesus made as if to go on [15].   He is beside us, behind us and in front of us.  He is friend, encourager and leader. Christ with me, Christ before me,/ Christ behind me, Christ within me, /Christ beneath me, Christ above me, /Christ at my right, Christ at my left [16].  His leadership can daunt us, precisely because he leaves us free.  We are at liberty to choose not to follow, and, indeed have often done so.  However, we also sometimes, with integrity, act as if we already had all the faith we need. They pressed him to stay with them [17].  Here is the beginning of true belief. I have faith. Help my lack of faith[18].  Our leader does not stride too far ahead of us and responds generously to our seeking him.

Among the things for which we might have hoped is that we would have become disciples  of Jesus sooner. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over’[19].  We remain conscious of how late we have left our conversion.  Late have I loved thee [20].  The Lord’s consistent generosity to latecomers goes on surprising us.  Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’[21] However tardily we turn to him, he who even at night directs my heart[22] welcomes us.  He allows us to exercise our freedom to believe in him and then rewards us abundantly.  

Our appreciation of how good the Lord has been to us dawns only slowly.  Did not our heart burn within us? [23]  Recollecting what has happened, we realise the impact of God.  Jesus is content to be remembered rather than always to have his goodness acknowledged immediately. Their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight [24].  Eucharistic remembering, however, re-invigorates our faith and demonstrates it fully.  While he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them [25].  It all comes back to us.  The ‘all’ that Jesus sacrificed for us, the ‘all’ that he has given us in our life and the ‘all’ to whom we are united in our belief in his continuing presence with us. Do this as a memorial of me [26].  The mystery of faith allows us to remember and to bring our belief in the risen Lord once more to full vigour.  Jesus is present.  He remembers us.  Let us press him, in faith, to stay with us always.

Homily by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]         Luke 24.18

[2]         Luke 24.19

[3]         Luke 24.15

[4]         Luke 24.16

[5]         1 Peter 1.20

[6]         1 Peter 1.21

[7]         Acts 2.25 and Psalm (16) 15.8

[8]         1 Peter 1.18-19

[9]         Psalm (16) 15.10

[10]        Acts 2.23

[11]        Psalm (16) 15.5-6

[12]        Luke 24.21

[13]        Shakespeare Macbeth 3.4.23

[14]        Luke 24.25

[15]        Luke 24.28

[16]        Saint Patrick’s Breastplate 60-63

[17]        Luke 24.29

[18]        Mark 9.24

[19]        Luke 24.29

[20]        Augustine Confessions  sero te amavi 10.27.38

[21]        Matthew 20.6

[22]        Psalm (16) 15.7

[23]        Luke 24.32

[24]        Luke 24.31

[25]        Luke 24.30

[26]        Luke 22.19