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Fr Maurice: Leaving Jerusalem

April 26, 2020
The Road to Emmaus by (attributed to) Francois Verdier

This Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 24:13-35) offers us to locations: the scene of Jerusalem and 7 miles from Jerusalem, Emmaus.

Jerusalem has become a place where hopes have been dashed and expectations have not been met; it’s a place of near despair. Listen to what they said to Jesus: we had hoped that he would be the one to liberate Israel. (Lk 24:21)

Jerusalem is the political and religious capital of Israel. But Rome had invaded Jerusalem and subdued the Israelites and made them slaves in their own land. The disciples had looked to Jesus for freedom and the restoration of their dignity. Because of the power Jesus had manifested, we hear them say in the Gospel, Jesus the Nazarene, a prophet mighty and deed and word (Lk 24:19). He had so much power, and they hoped that he would use that power to free Israel and overthrow Roman domination.

Then a horrible thing happened: Good Friday, and all hopes were dashed, and all expectations came to a sudden halt.

It is a scene in which they have just woken from a horrible nightmare. How could this be? That this Jesus, the one we had hoped to turn the page, then, all of the sudden, he was no more. And not ‘no more’ in the sense of a natural death, but a shameful death on the cross.

So Jerusalem was that place of utter hopelessness that must be left, like a man on a sinking ship who thinks to himself, I am going down, I have just one last chance left. If I don’t get it right now, I am finished. The more I stay here the more I lose my breath. There is only one way for me to survive is to leave this place. I’m not sure where I am going to, or how the other side will be, but I can no longer stay here. It is better for me to move on. Going nowhere is better than being here.

The place called Emmaus is yet to be identified by Biblical scholars. Emmaus is read as a place of nowhere; a place where I just leave because I must put the past behind me.

Many of us find ourselves in the place of Jerusalem.  Some of us have lost our jobs, there is a pandemic, and we do not know how this is going to end. We are not even sure of tomorrow. We are unsure of the next step, but we are certain that we cannot remain in Jerusalem. There must be, some seven miles from here, a way of setting ourselves free from the suffocating grief of Jerusalem.

So, we embark on the journey to Emmaus which is the journey to nowhere. But it is precisely at that point when we are sinking, when nowhere is better than this place, the point of going to nowhere, that the Risen Lord enters the story.

And the Risen Lord begins to speak to us. We do not yet know that he is the one, because our thought process has been clouded by the pain, frustration, and darkness of Jerusalem, and we think to ourselves “how could the strong one end up like that? And what about all our sacrifices we made?” But here is where the Lord comes to us and restores us to vigor. He begins to reinterpret things for us, and makes us to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and gives us the vitality not to despair or to run away from life’s challenging but to face them with the supernatural power that comes from encountering Jesus.

Faith demands a movement, it is never stationary.

Matthew had to leave the treasury and follow this eternal preacher. Peter, Andrew, James, and John, and all had to abandon Industry and go with this man who has nowhere to lay his head. (Lk 9:58)

Do you have the courage to move on and let go of past hurts and frustrations? It is the courage to say, “I might be stuck with my back against the wall now, but I believe that if I just make this next move, the stranger will come, and I will begin to talk to him, and give me new lease on my life.”

If Jerusalem is the place of death, Emmaus is the place of a new lease on life. But you cannot get to Emmaus without leaving Jerusalem. You cannot live in the two places at once.

When we make that move and embrace life with new vigor, new hope, and new trust, and new excitement, the Risen Lord comes into our life, now and forever.

– Fr Maurice