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 Inviting the Stranger---I believe


The Road to Emmaus

Now behold, two of them were travelling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him. And He said to them, "What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?"
     Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, "Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?" And He said to them, "What things?" So they said to Him, "The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see."
Then He said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
      Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. But they constrained Him, saying, "Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent." And He went in to stay with them.
      Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?"
      So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, "The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread. (Luke 24:13-35 NKJV)


     The following passages are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “With Burning Heart” published in 1994.


Inviting the Stranger (53-61)

     As they listen to the stranger, something changes within the two sad travelers. Not only do they sense a new hope and a new joy touching their inner most being, but their walk has become less hesitant. The stranger has given them a new sense of direction. “Going home” no longer means returning to the only place left to go. Home has become more than a necessary shelter, a house where they can stay as long as they don’t know what else to do. The stranger has given their journey a new meaning. Their empty house has become a place of welcome, a place to receive guests, a place to continue the conversation they had so unexpectedly begun.

     When you are feeling only your losses, then everything around you speaks of them. The trees, the flowers, the clouds, the hills and valleys, they all reflect your sadness. They all become mourners. When your dearest friend has died, all of nature speaks of her. The wind whispers her name, the branches, heavy with leaves, weep for her, and the dahlias and rhododendrons offer their petals to cover her body. But as you keep walking forward with someone at your side, opening your heart to the mysterious truth that your friend’s death was not just the end but also a new beginning, not just the cruelty of fate, but the necessary way to freedom, not just an ugly and gruesome destruction, but a suffering leading to glory, then you can gradually discern a new song sounding through creation and going home corresponds to the deepest desire of your heart.

     Of all the words the stranger had spoken, there was one that stands out on the travelers’ mind: “Glory.” “Was it not necessary,” He had said, “that the Christ should suffer before entering into His glory?” Their hearts and minds were still so full of the images of death and destruction. And now here was that word “Glory.” It didn’t seem to fit, and still, spoken by this stranger, it sets their hearts on fire and makes them see what they had not been able to see before. It was as if they had seen only manure that covered the soil, but never the fruits on the trees that had sprung from it. Glory, light, splendor, beauty, truth---they all seemed so unreal and unreachable! But now there were new sounds in the air and new colors in the fields. Going home had become a good thing. Home calls us. Home is where the table is---the table to sit around, to eat and drink with friends!

     And the stranger? Hasn’t He become a friend? He makes our hearts burn, He opens our eyes and ears. He is our companion on the journey! Home has become a good place for the friend to come. So they say, “It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over. . .come and stay with us.” He doesn’t ask for an invitation. He doesn’t beg for a place to stay. In fact, He acts as if He wants to go on. But they insist that He come in; they even press Him to stay with them. He accepts. He goes in to stay with them.

     Maybe we are not used to thinking about the Eucharist as an invitation to Jesus to stay with us. We are more inclined to think about Jesus inviting us to His house, His table, His meal. But Jesus wants to be invited. Without an invitation He will go on to other places. It is very important to realize that Jesus never forces Himself on us. Unless we invite Him, He will always remain a stranger, possibly a very attractive, intelligent stranger with whom we had an interesting conversation, but a stranger nevertheless. ["Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelations 3:20)]

     Even after He has taken much of our sadness away and shown us that our lives are not as petty and small as we had assumed, He can still remain the one we met on the road, the remarkable person who crossed our path and spoke with us for a while, the unusual personality about whom we can speak to our family and friends.

     I have many memories of encounters with people who made my heart burn but whom I did not invite into my home. Sometimes it happens on a long plane trip, sometimes in a train, sometimes at a party. Afterwards I say to my friends: “Let me tell you whom I met today. A quite fascinating person. He said things so remarkable that I couldn’t believe what I heard. It seemed that he knew me intimately. Yes, he could read my thoughts and speak to me as if he had known me for a long time. Quite special, quite unique, astonishing even. I wish you could have met him! But he went on to. . . I didn’t know where!”

     Interesting, stimulating, and inspiring as all these strangers may be, when I do not invite them into my home, nothing truly happens. I might have a few ideas, but my life remains basically the same. Without an invitation, which is the expression of the desire for a lasting relationship, the good news that we have heard cannot bear lasting fruit. It remains “news” among the many types of news that bombards us every day.

     It is one of the characteristics of our contemporary society that encounters, good as they may be, don’t become deep relationship. Thus our life is filled with good advice, helpful ideas, wonderful perspectives, but they are simply added to the many other ideas and perspectives and so leave us “uncommitted.” In a society with such an informational overload, even the most significant encounters can be reduced to “something interesting” among many other interesting things.

     Only with invitation to “come and stay with me” can an interesting encounter develop into a transforming relationship.

     One of the most decisive moments of the Eucharist---and of our life---is the moment of invitation. Do we say: “It was wonderful to meet you, thank you for your insights, your advice, and your encouragement? I hope the rest of your journey goes well. Goodbye!” Or do we say: “I have heard you, my heart is changing. . .please come into my home and see where and how I live!” This invitation to come and see is the invitation that makes all the difference.

     Jesus is a very interesting person; His words are full of wisdom. His presence is heart-warming. His gentleness and kindness are deeply moving. His message is very challenging. But do we invite Him into our home? Do we want Him to come to know us behind the walls of our most intimate life? Do we want to introduce Him to all the people we live with? Do we want Him to see us in our everyday lives? Do we want Him to touch us where we are most vulnerable? Do we want Him to enter into the back rooms of our homes, rooms that we ourselves prefer to keep safely locked? Do we truly want Him to stay with us when it is nearly evening and the day is almost over?

     The Eucharist requires this invitation. Having listened to His word, we have to be able to say more than, “This is interesting!” We have to dare to say, “I trust you; I entrust myself, with all my being, body, mind, and soul to You. I don’t want to keep any secrets from You. You can see everything I do and hear everything I say. I don’t want You to be a stranger any longer. I want You to become my most intimate friend. I want You to know me, not only as I walk on the road and talk to my fellow travellers, but also as I find myself alone with my innermost feelings and thoughts. And most of all, I want to come to know You, not just as my companion on the journey, but as the companion of my soul.”

     Saying this is not easy, since we are fearful people, and we do not easily entrust every part of ourselves to others. Our fear of being completely open and vulnerable is equal to our desire to know and to be known.

     I even hide parts of myself from myself! There are thoughts, feelings, and emotions that are so disturbing to me that I prefer to live as if they were not there.

     If I do not trust myself how can I trust anyone else? Still my deepest desire is to love and to be loved, and that is possible only if I am willing to know and to be known.

     Jesus reveals Himself to us as the Good Shepherd who knows us intimately and loves us. But do we want to be known by Him? Do we want Him to walk freely into every room of our inner lives? Do we want Him to see our bad side as well as our good, our shadow as well as our light? Or do we prefer Him to go on without entering our home? In the end, the question is: “Do we really trust Him and entrust every part of ourselves to Him?”

     When, after the readings and the homily, we say: “I believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting,” we invite Jesus into our home and entrust ourselves to His Way.

     As a moment of the Eucharistic celebration and, even more, of our Eucharistic life, the Creed is much more than a profession of faith. And “faith,” as the Greek word pistis shows, is an act of trust. It is the great “Yes.” It says “Yes” to the One who explained the scriptures to us as scriptures that are about Him. It is this deep “Yes,” not only to the words He spoke but also to Him who spoke them, that brings us finally to the table. If we ca say, “Yes, we trust You and entrust our lives to You,” we go beyond just waling into His presence; we dare to open ourselves to communion with Him.

     The two travelling friends invite, indeed, press, the stranger to stay with them. “Be our guest,” they say. They want to be His hosts. They invite the stranger to lay aside his strangeness and become a friend to them. That’s what true hospitality is all about, to offer a safe place, where the stranger can become friend. There were two friends and a stranger. But now there are three friends, sharing the same table.

     The table is the place of intimacy. Around the table we discover each other. It’s the place where we pray. It’s the place where we ask: “How was your day?” It’s the place where we eat and drink together and say: “Come on, take some more!” It is the place of old and new stories. It is the place for smiles and tears. The table, too, is the place where distance is most painfully felt. It is the place where children feel the tension between the parents, where brothers and sisters express their anger and jealousies, where accusations are made, and where plates and cups become instruments of violence. Around the table, we know whether there is friendship and community or hatred and division. Precisely because the table is the place of intimacy for all the members of the household, it is also the place where the absence of that intimacy is most painfully revealed.

     When on the evening before His death, Jesus came together with His disciples around the table; He revealed both intimacy and distance. He shared the bread and the cup as a sign of friendship, but He also said, “Look, here with Me on the table is the hand of the man who is betraying Me.”

     When I think about my own youth, I think most often of our family meals, especially on feast days. I remember the Christmas decorations, the birthday cakes, the Easter candles, and the smiling faces. But I also remember the words of anger, the walking away, the tears, the embarrassment, and the seemingly endless silences.

     We are most vulnerable when we sleep or eat together. Bed and table are the two places of intimacy. Also the two places of greatest pain. And maybe, of these two places, the table is the most important because it is the place where all who belong to the household gather and where family, community, friendship, hospitality, and true generosity can be expressed and made real.

     Jesus accepts the invitation to come into the home of His travelling companions, and He sits down at table with them. They offer Him the place of honour. He is in the centre. They are alongside Him. They look at Him. He looks at them. There is intimacy, friendship, community. Then something new happens. Something scarcely noticeable to an untrained eye. Jesus is the guest of His disciples, but as soon as He enters into their home, He becomes their host! And as their host He invites them to enter into full communion with Him.


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