Significant Emotional Events by Rev. Jerry Pokorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus' disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
He asked them, "What are you discussing as you walk along?" They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?" And he replied to them, "What sort of things?" They said to him, "The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see."
And he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. 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?" So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, "The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!" Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The management consultant spoke like an evangelical preacher. He was full of energy and insight directing young urban professionals on how to get along with others. He wisely pointed out that every generation has it "Significant Emotional Event" (SEE) that helps define expectations and behavior patterns. The shock of the Great Depression defined the savings habits of a large segment of the population. From Pearl Harbor to the fall of Saigon, with wars and political assassinations in between, significant emotional events became central to our life experiences and drove many of our choices. His analysis made a good deal of sense.
In fact, we have all heard stories of hard-working, self-reliant Americans whose SEE was the hunger and deprivation of the Depression era. Apparently resolved to be prepared for the next economic crash, some of them squirreled away large under-the-mattress cash savings. Silly men for not trusting banks.
Yet there are unresolved problems with significant emotional events, conundrums beyond the explanation of secular management consultants. Chief among the difficulties are violations of the First Commandment. A Nazi Holocaust survivor once remarked that the replacement of the Exodus by the Holocaust - as the central event of Jewish history - was the most tragic result of the Nazi genocide. A SEE can easily become an all-consuming preoccupation - in effect a perverse object of worship - displacing God.
In the Gospel this week, the disciples of Christ are fleeing Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus. They are discouraged and fail to recognize the risen Christ in their midst as He questions them on their experiences. "One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, 'Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?'" Christ presses them to identify the SEE with precision: "'What sort of things?' They said to him, 'The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet might in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.'" A crucified redeemer tends to ruin expectations.
The Lord takes the opportunity to give a Scripture lesson definitively establishing the unity of the Old Testament with the New Testament: "Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures." Christ would fulfill Abraham's unwitting prophecy when he said to his son Isaac as they proceeded to the altar of sacrifice: "God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust." Christ, the true "Suffering Servant" prophesied by Isaiah, as the word made flesh, fulfills another prophecy of Isaiah: "For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it." The cross is the great sign of the obedience of Christ in overcoming sin, suffering and death.
But the cross without the Resurrection would be just another horrible significant emotional event. The cross and the Resurrection, indeed, cannot be reduced to mere "emotional events." They are the most significant of historical events. The fact of the Resurrection places the obedience of Christ on the cross at the center of man's history. The Resurrection is transformative and gives the cross and all life - including the sufferings of life - meaning. The gentle and anonymous intervention of Christ with the disciples on the road to Emmaus is a reminder that Christ continues to walk with His disciples, in good times and in bad.
In this vale of tears, significant emotional events will continue to affect our lives and define our character. Tragedies will occur. Beloved family members will die. Someday we ourselves will receive a death sentence: an unhappy diagnosis by a doctor or some variation of the "end is near" theme. But we must not allow any SEE to displace the saving power of Christ. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. He is risen. "And they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light or lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever." (Rev 22:4-5)
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