My favorite story in the New Testament is the post-resurrection meeting with Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-32). I say this for two reasons. The first is that I can see myself so clearly on that road, focused on my own sadness at Jesus’ death, oblivious to the fact that He is walking right there with me.
The second reason is, as the Scripture explains, “… they came to know Him in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24: 30-31). I don’t think it’s an accident that Luke uses this passage to introduce the post-resurrection Jesus. He is clearly alluding to the Eucharist as well as to the value of fellowship over a good meal. Jesus does tend to show up when good friends and family are gathered around a table for a meal.
I have no shame about the significance of faith in my life. It has been the force behind every major decision I have made. It informs my intellect and illuminates my journey.
In spite of this, many Christians would put me outside the embrace of their church and gladly condemn me to their particular brand of suffering and damnation.
This wasn’t always the case. I grew up in a profoundly intellectual church. Pope John Paul II was just five years into his papacy when I started college. There was healthy intellectual dialogue in Catholic universities where ecumenism, social justice and exegetical work were offering a new and perspective on and hope for Christianity. Other mainline Protestant denominations were also experiencing what I like to call “the Christian Spring.”
And then Christianity, Catholicism included, started a slow shift to the right that picked up steam through the 1990s and hit full speed as we entered the new millennium. In very short order, Christians — “true” Christians — became defined by key issues that focused almost entirely on sexuality. An individual’s position on abortion, homosexuality and premarital sex became the benchmarks by which faithfulness would be judged. It is here that Americans officially christened Jesus as a Republican.
Scripturally, another interesting transition took place. The Pauline letters were embraced with fervor and righteousness while the ministry of Jesus (as revealed in the Gospels) was all but ignored. The single most important question became, “Are you born again?” In the academic realm, creationism gained a new foothold that still astonishes me. And finally, the separation between the saved and the damned was clarified with an almost sickening zeal by Christian fundamentalists.
But it is the Gospel that is at the center of my faith. It is the ministry of Jesus, his life and work that give meaning and purpose to His crucifixion and resurrection. In that, Jesus challenges Christians to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:36-ff).
Who is Jesus? He is the incarnation of the Devine who spent most of his time with the outcasts of society — prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers and lowly fishermen. He preached on the fringe, to people who had “the ears to listen and the eyes to see.” He wandered the holy land in humility, healing and praying and loving.
What was Jesus up to in the world? He was almost exclusively focused on the salvation of others. I always like to pose the following question: What would the world look like if either we all went to heaven or no one did? Jesus lived his life and accepted his cross with the sole purpose of saving others, not in judgment or damnation but in the simple act of being present and telling a great story. Is it possible we should do the same?
The Easter season has begun. I hope Christians can find some time to reflect on what Jesus was up to in the world. What and who was He calling us to be?
Let me close with a quote from one of the driving forces behind the “Christian Spring” and a model of what it means to be a person of faith, Archbishop Oscar Romero.
“It helps now and then to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom of God is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete … No statement says all that should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith … We cannot do everything, and there is liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results … we are workers and not master builders, ministers and not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.”
To all of the workers, ministers and prophets in the world, Happy Easter!