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?” (Luke 24:31-32)
The Emmaus story is one of my favorite passages from the Gospels and I believe it is one of the more important stories. As with many other passages we can sometimes react to them from an emotive perspective – making our understanding of the passage more about feelings than hearing the lesson that is being presented to us or the challenge that is laid before us to embrace in our lives.
I have often used the Emmaus story to help to teach about the Mass. However, it is also a perfect example of how to live out Jesus’ call for us to “go and make disciples of all nations.(see Matthew 28)” And Jesus, Himself, shows us how to do what He asks of us.
Here is, in simple terms, what he asks of us, in order to share His Good News:
The first lesson is remembering that this is about encountering people one or two people at a time. Jesus, unrecognized by the disciples, simply begins to walk with them. This is vital in how we are to approach evangelization. Typically we want to wait for people to approach us – to come to the church – to express their interest in becoming Catholic or wanting to go deeper. But this is not reality. It is our responsibility to, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, join people’s journeys, especially when they are walking in the wrong direction (heard a great point about this during the homily I heard at Mass – the two disciples were walking in the wrong direction, away from Jerusalem, when Jesus joined them). Evangelization requires intentionality – requires a cost – requires us to go out.
The second lesson is that it is important to listen to the stories of those we do encounter. We have a great story to share with them but in order for us to effectively do so we need to know what their journey has been like. I love how Jesus asks them “What are you talking about?” when he begins to walk with them. They are incredulous at this question – how could you not know what has happened in Jerusalem?!? And, yet, Jesus patiently asks again, “What things?” When you are blessed to have the opportunity to walk with someone you need to love them enough to hear from them before they hear from you.
Share the Good News
The third lesson is be prepared to share the Good News – our story of faith – with them. The emphasis is be prepared! Do you know our story? Do you know the basic Gospel message (kerygma) and are you prepared to share it effectively? Are you capable of offering apologetics (defense) regarding the Church’s teachings in a charitable, yet convincing manner? If not, then you, as a baptized Catholic – as a disciple – have the responsibility to study the faith so that you are ready to teach effectively. Jesus did not hesitate to challenge these two disciples (both of them should have known better after following Him for years…”Oh, how foolish you are!”), but took the time to reteach them all they had already heard through the lens of the victory of Easter. Each person we encounter will have different needs in regards to learning about the faith so be careful to avoid a one size fits all model.
This is a small lesson from the story that I believe often goes unnoticed. “As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther.” Jesus obviously knew that His teaching, especially in light of His Resurrection, was giving them hope and new life (He is God after all!) and that they would want to spend more time with Him. Yet He makes believe that He is going to keep moving along and they quickly move to invite Him to stay with them (of course as typical men they could not admit the real reason why they wanted Him to stay with them – our hearts our burning within us so please stay with us. Instead they say it is getting dark out – we would hate to see you get hurt or something. Am I the only one who sees this as funny?). Jesus is playing with them and that is a great lesson. We need to be sure not to take ourselves too seriously. Use humor.
Simple enough – bring people to Jesus’ Real Presence. Just as we, ourselves, need to be anchored in the Eucharist so to do the folks we are walking with need the opportunity to encounter Him at Mass, in Adoration, before the Tabernacle. For every Catholic true conversion will ultimately come about through sacramental grace and especially through falling in love with the Eucharistic Lord. So let Jesus, Himself, do what He promised to do – to be with us always! Invite those you are discipling to join you in attending Mass or spending a few minutes in Adoration. Teach them about this amazing and mysterious gift!
Evangelization, for many, is seen as a daunting task and in many ways it certainly is during these interesting days in our world. However, it is the Church’s mission – it is our mission. And we have a responsibility to answer the call. This is not optional for one who claims to be a disciple of Christ. As always, Christ does not leave us without an answer as to how we can do so. And for all the talks, trainings, books, blogs, etc on the issue of evangelization, it is simpler then we might think – it has been happening for over two thousand years with people from all walks of life. In simple terms: Encounter others; Listen to them; Share the Good News; Use humor; Bring them to Jesus in the Eucharist.
During this beautiful season of Easter I pray that all of us may recommit ourselves to the life-giving work of evangelization – to walking with others and helping them to fall in love with the Savior of the world.