“There is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbors or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation... Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.” — Joy of the Gospel, No. 127
Brennan Maiers, O.S.B., tells the story of a youngster who set off for a day of hiking and adventure in a nearby park. After a while the boy became hungry, but he was prepared with snacks and soft drinks in his backpack.
The youngster looked for a place to enjoy his feast. The picnic area was full, so he settled at a table where a small, grandmotherly woman sat. He began eating his snacks and then thought to offer one of them to the woman. She silently accepted it. He pulled out one of his soft drinks and asked the woman if she would like one. She silently accepted.
That evening the boy’s parents asked how he had enjoyed his day. The lad beamed and announced that he had had lunch with God. “Oh?” asked his quizzical parents. “Yes,” he said, “but I never knew God was a woman and very old.”
When the old woman returned to her family and was asked by one of her grown children how her day had gone, she said, “I had lunch with God!” “Oh?” asked a surprised son. “Yes,” she said, “but I never knew that God was such a young boy.”
In his apostolic exortation Evangelium Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis speaks of always being ready to evangelize, that is, always being ready to share the joy that is in the story of the life of Jesus. He mentions that this could happen even on a journey. It is interesting to note that Luke’s whole method of telling the story of salvation takes place within the context of a journey.
Luke presents Jesus on a journey from Bethlehem to Nazareth, to Galilee, and on to Jerusalem. In the Acts, Luke presents the Church itself being on a journey from Jerusalem, “throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In fact, in the Acts, Luke mentions several times that the community names itself the “people of the journey,” i.e., the Way. Today we hear from Luke about a very specific journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus and back.
Luke’s readers likely had begun to despair of having any encounter with Christ. They believed in a rather quick Second Coming that had not happened. They were facing persecution, and because they were mostly Gentiles from many different cultures, they were having trouble building any sense of unity. Luke recounted today’s story to help his community. Our story and the challenges to our faith are not so different. We have expectations of encountering Christ but do not. Christianity — and Catholicism in particular — is under assault, and maintaining unity in our Church and even within our parishes is difficult. Luke’s story can also help us.
Our passage from the first Letter of Peter traditionally has been thought to have been part of a homily for baptism. The letter describes our life as a sojourn. We are headed somewhere, much like the disciples leaving Jerusalem and heading for Emmaus. The letter encourages us to embrace the sojourn, seeing our whole life as a journey with both trials and joy in which we can experience Christ.
One of the goals of Luke’s Gospel is to teach us how to encounter and recognize Christ. Ultimately Luke teaches that recognizing Christ happens in the context of fulfilling Christ’s command to make — and be — disciples. The disciples heading to Emmaus were returning home from their Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They knew the story of Jesus in its entirety, but they lacked understanding about its meaning. How did they gain understanding? Just as Pope Francis suggests: in discussion on the journey. Luke tells us that the primary experience of Christ is in the sharing of the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread, i.e., the Eucharist. The disciples’ immediate return to Jerusalem tells us that experiencing Christ best takes place when we are gathered with the faithful.
Jesus’ disciples discovered the joy of the Gospel while being evangelized. We can do the same.
FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.