June 23, 2008

Operation: Lost and Found

3rd Sunday of Easter
Luke 24:13-35: “But we had hoped that he was the one who was going
to redeem Israel.”

Mario and Angelo are best of friends. They are like real brothers. They love playing Nitendo games, eat chocolates and ice cream, and spend time studying together. One day, Mario was diagnosed with cancer and his doctor gave him 6 months to live. Fear overwhelmed Mario, “What will I do now?” But Angelo simply said, “We will continue playing Nitendo, eat chocolates and ice cream, and study together.” And so they did. But when Mario is in deep pain, he is surprisingly calm and in good spirit. Angelo asked him, “Are you not afraid to die?” Mario smiled, “I’m in pain but I am not afraid to die. If God can send me a friend who is always at my side and holds my hands when I am in pain, how much more of God when I die? God will take care of me.”

The hope that Easter brings should inspire us to seek and save people from their shattered dreams, depression, fear, grieve, loneliness and hopelessness. As Easter people, we are called to help Jesus in his “Lost and Found” operation. Lost souls are all around us, crying out for help and just waiting to be found. All we need to do is to walk with them, listen to their stories and break bread.

Our gospel begins with Cleopas and another disciple discussing on their way to Emmaus. Like the rest of the disciples, they are lost souls – disheartened and disappointed with their master’s humiliating death and failure to redeem Israel from the Roman Empire. Dream time is over. It is time to pack up things and return to the ordinaries. The death of Jesus, their very promising master, shattered all their dreams. They have lost hope, lost heart and lost all visions.

The first step to recover lost souls is “to be with them.” Walk with them in their journey. Jesus walked with the disciples on their way to Emmaus. To “walk with” is to be present and offer companionship. To “walk with” is to be a “loving presence” – always assuring but non-threatening, accepting but non-judging and supporting but not imposing. To know that somebody is accompanying us without demanding anything has a calming effect. When Jesus accompanied the disciples along the road, he did not even demand to change their direction and return to Jerusalem. Due respect was given to them. It was a walk of trust and companionship.

Second, we need to understand them by listening to their stories. Encourage them to tell their stories and listen faithfully by dropping all our biases, judgment and boxes. Each person is uniquely created by God and has “his-story” or “her-story” to tell. In the advent of global community and modern communication today, where everybody is a phone or e-mail away, it is ironic that we become more strangers to one another. We don’t have the patience to listen well to people, especially of their frustrations and difficulties. We don’t want to be involved for many reasons and we find a good excuse by telling ourselves we are busy with more important things. The greeting “Kumusta ka na?” is just a cliché. I was slightly offended by a friend who said “Kumusta ka na?” but his eyes were fixed on a pretty lady.

But Jesus knows how to listen after posting a question to the disciples, “What are you discussing?” He allowed his disciples to express their frustrations and ventilate their feelings. By listening to their story, Jesus entered into their life and understood them. But in the process of telling their story, they also gained self-understanding. In the end, they also gained insight and realized their own misconception about Jesus.

After listening to the disciples’ frustrations, Jesus gained understanding of their failure to recognize him: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21). Their minds and hearts were fixated to see only one thing: a victorious Jesus according to the world’s standard. It was a selective seeing. Jesus gave them a piece of his mind and said, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (Luke 24:25). And he corrected the disciples’ vision and misconception by patiently telling his story again in different perspective. He explained what was said in the Scriptures beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, the savior must suffer and then enter his glory (Luke 24:26-27). It was a complete cycle, Jesus patiently listened to the disciples’ story, and so when his time came to tell his story, the disciples returned the kindness by listening patiently to Jesus. It is the secret of a good dialogue.

When evening came, the two disciples requested Jesus to stay with them. The invitation to stay was not a concern for the stranger’s safety traveling alone on the road, but they felt a great need for the stranger. There was “something” in him they badly need. They wanted his company – they felt at home. The stranger reminded them of something they forgot – the call to do something more, the call to love.

A free meal is expected from the host when one is invited to stay. The disciples invited Jesus; therefore the disciples were expected to feed Jesus. But it was Jesus who fed them – a reversal of role! The visitor feeding the two lost hosts! To save souls, we need to wear the garment of the host – to be equally warm, receptive and accommodative to all. The host wants his guests to feel home away from home.

It makes sense why it is hard for us to accompany somebody in their difficulties, loneliness and hopelessness … we will always end up as host. To host is to serve. In the breaking of bread, it is the host who offers his own bread and initiates the breaking. Breaking bread involves listening, understanding, loving, and forgiving – these are not easy without love. And so Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another (John 13:34) and then break bread together, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19). It is in the breaking of bread that eyes are opened and see that we are being accompanied and loved! Jesus prepared a good breakfast for Peter and company after returning to their old job of fishing: “When they landed, they saw a charcoal fire there with a fish laid on it and some bread.” (John 21:9). When Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples, he asked, “Have you anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:41). It was a command to break bread when somebody is lost.

The word “companion” came from the Latin word “cum” and “panis” which means “with” and “bread.” When there’s companionship, there should be breaking of bread. Breaking of bread is an intimate sacrament of acceptance, forgiveness and companionship.

Jesus did a lot of bread breaking after the resurrection. And He is doing it everyday through the Eucharist to prevent us from being lost. And as Easter people, breaking bread should be part of our family, friends and community activity.
The power of unconditional love as manifested in the spirit of accompaniment and genuine listening opened the eyes of the disciples. The realization, “were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road…” (Luke 24:32), gave them the courage to stop running away and return to Jerusalem. Love has the power to recover. Love has the power to give life. The two disciples recognized Jesus through the breaking of bread. And without any words from Jesus, they immediately returned to Jerusalem to break bread with the rest of the disciples.

Go now. Start recovering souls. Break bread and win a brother!

- Fr.Willy M. Samson,SJ
Ateneo de Zamboanga

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