The disciples on their way to Emmaus were downcast. This was because they simply could not understand all that had happened recently. They could not understand how Jesus, a man anointed by God, a prophet who went about teaching the mercy of God, doing good, performing signs and wonders, championing the poor and the marginalized and thought to be the liberator of Israel could have died such a tragic death. As if these events were not inexplicable enough, the news about some women and disciples not finding the body in the tomb and then declaring Him to be alive was even more unsettling.
Very often we too are confused over the events in our lives, especially tragic events. Some of us meet unpleasant or bad events, one after another. We wonder why such things are happening to us. Are we being punished by God? How is it that members of the family are falling sick, one after another? How is it that we are receiving bad news so often? Are we being persecuted by the Evil One? Did we do wrong? Such are the questions people ask, good or bad alike, in the face of suffering and events that they cannot make sense of.
Unless such questions are answered, we become crippled in life. We cannot let go of our resentment and hurts. Many of us are angry with God and with people. We feel that God has been unfair to us. When the questions of the mysteries of life are not adequately answered, people come to the conclusion that this God is unjust and removed from the world. How can there be a God when there is no justice in this world? How can there be a God when the world is suffering? Why did God take away my loved ones? Why are all my relationships not working out? Why can’t I find a life-partner? Indeed, like the disciples of Emmaus, we become disheartened, disillusioned and wonder whether God really cares or whether He exists at all!
The Word of God tells us that the obstacle to coming out of our tomb is that we dare not expect more. We conceive of God and His ways according to our human logic. We think God should act the way we do and think the way we do. But His ways are not ours. His thoughts are not ours. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8f) This was indeed the case of the crippled beggar at the Beautiful Gate at the Temple. When he saw Peter and John, “he begged from them. He was expecting some money of sorts to help him to pay for his daily needs. But St Peter had more to give than silver and gold. Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!” Indeed, this was a greater gift than just giving him money.
But St Peter was not interested in just helping the crippled man to walk again. He wanted to give him more than money or even physical health. St Peter gave Him nothing less than Jesus Christ! Truly, this has always been the purpose of all miracles, to lead people to Jesus their Lord and Saviour. Whether it was during the time of Jesus in Palestine or the apostles proclaiming the gospel, the miracles were means to help people come to faith in Christ. Healing is never merely physical because the root of all illnesses and dissatisfaction is always spiritual. Unless a person comes to know Christ as their Lord, they will always be falling into sin and sickness as well. But a person who comes to Christ will live even when he dies, is well and happy even when he is sick, rich even when he is poor.
This lack of expectant faith was displayed by the disciples of Jesus before they encountered the Risen Lord. The disciples did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead. It was unthinkable. So they were not only confused at the tragic death of their master but equally perplexed to hear of stories that His body was not found in the tomb and that some had “seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive.” Even those who went to the tomb had expected to see the corpse of Jesus; not the Risen Lord. So, too, in the case of Mary of Magdala. She held on to the Jesus of Nazareth that she knew rather than allow faith to go beyond what was in the past to the future in the Risen Lord.
If we are too myopic in our view of life, too deeply entrenched by our past experience and perceptions, then like the crippled beggar we need encouragement to stand up and claim faith in Jesus. That was what Peter did with the man. He “took him by the hand and helped him to stand up. Instantly his feet and ankles became firm, he jumped up, stood, and began to walk.” We too need to help those who are struggling to believe and to surrender to the Lord. Even Jesus recognized that some do need support and explanation. That was why the Lord took pains to journey with them and to explain the meaning of the events that took place.
In other words, to help people to come to faith, we must help them not by arguments, because intellectual discourse will not go very far. We will only agree to disagree at the end of the debate. Very few are converted simply through arguments alone because they know that at the end of the day, faith is required. If God can be proven, then no faith is necessary. That is why the author of Hebrews reminds us, “Without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Heb 11:6)
Rather, all we need to do is to help them connect the events in their lives and show them the plan of God for them. If we can link the dots in their lives, a picture would emerge. Otherwise, they simply remain just dots and events without a purpose. But if they can see that what is happening is for a greater purpose ahead, then they can make sense of and accept the events, good and bad, and be grateful for all that has happened to them. As Jesus reprimanded the disciples, “You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?” In truth, everything is within the plan of God. We might not understand why, but if we have faith in the Lord and can see beyond the isolated events in our life as part of a larger plan of God for us, then we can accept the events even if they are negative. If not, we will also be “astonished and unable to explain what had happened” to us.
So how can we help people to connect the dots in their lives? With Jesus, the privileged place to understand the plan of God for us is through the scriptures. This was how Jesus helped them to understand His passion. “Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.” Only by searching the scriptures as a whole and not just one or two texts taken out of context can we know the entire plan of God for humanity and for us as individuals.
No one can presume to help people connect with the plan of God if he or she cannot even connect his or her life with God’s plan. Before we journey with others, it presupposes we know where we are. The danger for us is that we have too many blind people leading the blind. They themselves are broken, wounded, and enslaved by sins. If so, how can they lead others out of that bondage unless they themselves have first found the secret and antidote for themselves! So the one who helps others to discern the ways of the Lord is presumed to be closely connected with the Lord in prayer and intimacy so that he or she can help others to discover His way for them through scriptures and prayer. This is what spiritual direction consists of, finding His will in our lives.
The most perfect way to connect with God and find healing and direction is through the Eucharist because it celebrates both the Word of God and the sacrifice of the mass. Through the Eucharist, we come to be more aware of Christ who connects us when we hear His word and receive Him in Holy Communion through the celebration of the Eucharist. We read that the disciples recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. “Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’” That is why we must celebrate the Eucharist, if possible daily, so that we can identify ourselves with Him both in good times and bad, and never lose courage but always find strength and hope in Him through His life, death and resurrection.
Indeed, when we hear the Lord speaking to us in worship and prayer, we become His witnesses. We read that the beggar after being healed and enlightened, “went with them into the Temple, walking and jumping and praising God.” Our act of giving glory to God and living a changed life will be the best witnessing to Christ in our lives. “Everyone could see him walking and praising God, and they recognised him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple.” Like him, we can attract people to Jesus just by living a vibrant, active and passionate life, even without proclaiming the Word of God. Like the Eleven, we too will confess “Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” And like them, we will share our stories of how we meet the Lord each day on our road and how we too recognize “him at the breaking of bread.”