Road to Glory
By Rev. Joseph M. Rampino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Luke writes 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.
This Sunday presents us with another account of the risen Christ, this time on the road to the town of Emmaus. This passage is one of the most important texts for understanding the structure, purpose and spirit of Christian liturgy; so many commentaries trace the progression from the opening of the Scriptures to the breaking of the bread.
But as with every Scriptural passage, the treasures are endless, and the first meaning is never also the last. Tucked into the heart of the conversation Jesus has with the two disciples on the road is a short question. When confronted with the discouragement and sorrow of the disciples, Jesus asks them, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer all these things and so enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:26)
These words lay bare the worldly thinking that underlies the sorrow of the disciples. They are filled with sadness because they still see Christ’s suffering, the suffering of one whom they love, as ultimately futile, without anything but moral value, and in the end, the last word. We can hear their resignation when they say, “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel,” (Lk 24: 21). They speak these words as those who have lost hope, for whom the story has now ended. They also betray their understanding of how victory looks. Their expectation had been perhaps pure conquest, a triumph without humiliation, failure or death. They see as the world sees.
And indeed, if the resurrection had not happened, they would not have been wrong. The disciples view the Passion of Jesus the only way they know how. Christ must now introduce them to a wholly new way of thinking and of understanding the nature of human life. He comes to them from the other side of a glory they have never seen and could not have imagined.
From the perspective of the risen Lord, all sorrow and suffering is transfigured into the road to perfection. Before Easter, suffering was tolerable only insofar as it gained something, only as a prelude to success, and if the one suffering had to sacrifice, then the victory they won would always carry a note of tragedy. In Christ, something perfectly new has happened: a victory with no dark side for those who share it. The resurrection brings both victory, necessarily achieved at high cost, and healing of every wound, for every person saved. While the ancient heroes like Heracles or Orion might have striven for legendary half-triumphs and carried their wounds and failures with them to the stars, our Jesus stands victorious before his disciples carrying his wounds, not as unremovable scars, but as a signs of love, freely chosen.
It is difficult to express these things because the logic of Easter still remains elusive for us. We have firsthand experience of worldly logic, the logic that tells us that every good thing has a price, and that we must live with the cost of all we achieve. In Jesus, we now see a perfect victory by one who can pay the necessary price and emerge on the other side strengthened, not weakened. The only cost to us is the humility to trust and follow him. It was necessary for the Christ to suffer, yes, but so that he could enter into his glory and bring with him many brothers and sisters across the centuries. From now on, suffering accepted along with Christ in love is the new road to glory for all with the courage to take it.