Wednesday in the Octave of Easter
(Click here for readings)
(Click here for readings)
By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
“With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other,
‘Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?’”
Nowadays, few occasions call for a strong outpouring of emotion. Most events like graduations, weddings, baptisms, holiday festivities, etc., tend to carry on in a perfunctory manner without much genuine feeling. These things might excite the participants more if people remembered their meaning, but this rarely happens. Those important moments often cease to be important and only bring about more obligations. Graduations usher more school; weddings usher messy divorces; baptisms usher a lifetime false sense of piety; holidays usher more spending and consequent disgust.
The cynic has too many conventions to deride in one lifetime. The optimist too often feels the need to indulge in fantasies. “Underwhelmed” comes to mind when describing the general mood of people – much like the existential “ennui” thatcharacterized society a century ago. An underwhelming spirit has descended upon the retreating bulwarks of civilization; ideas and institutions that seemed so successful or so promising inevitably fall short, leaving people to search for another one. In religion, politics, education, art, or economics, people today tend to cycle through various fads that powerful people market and promote. It hardly makes anyone happy, but they stay busy.
As the majority people continue down the path of false hype, empty pursuits, and the mild stagnant manner of an underwhelmed post-modern citizen of the world, the Christian is confronted by something jarring: shock and enthusiasm. The two disciples on their way to Emmaus quietly make their way home after witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus. The brutality and pitiless cruelty shocks them, and the unfulfilled promises of Jesus’ kingdom leaves them disheartened.
Considering the number of cults and spiritual fads that saturated the Roman Empire, and the number of crackdowns employed against Jewish nationalists, they probably resigned themselves to disappointment rather easily. The world had many such souls wandering about, looking for the new cult leader, a new hope, a new failure. These men probably felt like men feel today: small, confused, and generally underwhelmed.
Then Jesus “drew near and walked with them,” gentlyinserting himself into their company. He inquires about their gloominess, and they respond without recognizing them. Perhaps Jesus hid His appearance, but the men probably did not bother to look much in His direction as they spoke. In a typical traveler fashion, they tell Him the news: His crucifixion, the reports of His body missing, and the disciples having doubts. Instead the good news, the gospel of Jesus Who came to save humanity, they give the bad news, the failure of a man named Jesus who failed even in his own burial by not staying buried. Again, men today do the same, waxing freely about their doubts to bond with friends but politely holding back their convictions out of fear of sounding foolish.
With admirable gusto, Jesus dismisses this pathetic spiritual surrender. He dares to question their despair. Far from looking foolish Himself, He shows how foolish these men are to suppose that Jesus would wave a magic wand—or shepherd’s crook—and effect an Israelite utopia. The men of ancient Israel clamored for kings and utopias, and if the thousand years recorded in the Old Testament teaches anything, it is that God’s people should stop putting their hopes in this. Kings and ideologies—which, at that time, came in the form of pagan religions—will inevitably disappoint. Christ’s religion, the true faith, transcends societal transformation; Christ transforms man the individual.
Peter does not call for a societal reform, but rather calls for souls to repent and believe in Jesus. He gives the crippled man the power of Jesus, and this cures the man. He does not give a five-point plan for reforming Judea, but instead gives the person Jesus. As a result, the cured man offends the rules of propriety by “walking and jumping and praising God.” Both literally and figuratively, Peter moves this man, who so recently wallowed with the rest of the disenchanted crowd.
In explaining the prophecies of His own coming, Jesus achieves the same for His listeners. He stirs something in them and enflames their souls. At first, these two men listened to Jesus as any weary person listens to something overly familiar. They listened in the same way many people atMass listen, with a million other thoughts smothering the power of the words. Jesus persists and breaks this mental barrier. His enthusiasm is infectious. Disciples today should take note.
Properly understood, Christ’s very Being should have everyone jumping and praising God like the cured invalid. Too many people’s souls lie in the dispirited state at the moment, but the Easter season and its message can cure it. As Peter, the first pope, makes clear, these despondent victims do not need money, or power, but Jesus who will lift them up to a better life.