The minds of those two defeated men were turned entirely to the past and its regrets. Everything seemed finished: “We had hoped,” they said; but now they were without hope.
Jesus did not reveal his identity in a blinding flash; he entered their conversation, he entered the past with them; he sifted it with them – but differently.
Their hopes had been political: “We had hoped that he was the one to set Israel free.” Deep in their hearts, they were disappointed politicians, not disciples. It is not so surprising. It is much easier to be a politician at heart than to be a disciple. There are far more politicians in the world than you would think. Millions of unelected people have the mind of a politician. A politician wants to change other people. But a disciple is one who is willing to be changed.
Jesus listened patiently to the version of history that those two men had. He didn’t cut them off after a few words. He heard them out. Had he cut them off, their doubts and objections would have remained inside them, suppressed and therefore all the more powerful. He listened, and in the light of what they said, he read the past for them in a new way. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”
He did not impose his understanding of the past on them. Neither did he impose his understanding of the future. He waited for them to invite him. When they came near the village, they said, “Stay with us!” He did not impose himself; he allowed them the courtesy of inviting him freely. Faith is God’s invitation: “Go into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet” (Matthew 22:9). In practice, it has not always been so: many of us still remember the violence with which religion was forced on us in the past: physical violence in the case of children, moral and spiritual violence in the case of adults. Force always creates counterforce. Many have this counterforce working in them and have become deaf accordingly to the invitation of Christ.
Christ does not force us; he invites us. But it has to be an invitation on our part too. Faith is a mutual invitation because it is an invitation to friendship.
Giltus Mathias is a Passionist priest that lives at St.Brigid’s Retreat Marrickville.