A year ago the Lib-Dem party decided to form a coalition government. Certainly they had a particular vision and certain expectations of the future. But last Thursday’s referendum on elections turned out to be a crushing defeat. This is a pretty good illustration of the disappointment of the two main characters in today’s gospel.
They genuinely hated both the Romans and the collaborative Jewish establishment; they were impatiently waiting for a messiah to crush their enemies and re-establish an independent Israel. They had joined Jesus’ company perceiving him as the Chosen One. Their belief in him was so strong that they interpreted all his words and deeds as confirmation of their expectations. But instead of a triumphant and victorious military advance on the part of their messiah, they witnessed a violent, cruel and humiliating defeat. Their political plans died on the cross and were buried with Jesus’ body. These embittered and frightened disciples, their dreams shattered, left the community with which they had shared their lives. They were now travelling to a small, forgotten village. They were thinking so much on their apparent defeat that they didn’t notice someone had joined them along the way.
Many people have experienced something similar in their lives; all be it on a different level. Who among us has never been disappointed, embittered or crushed because our plans, or expectations or other people had failed? It is sad but true that failure is part of life. The question is not if but when. An even more important question is what we do when we face failure. There are two main psychological reactions: escape or fight. The first one, escape, is more common. There are many ways in which a person can hide, ranging from simple things like avoiding people trough to much more serious matters like addictions, self-harm and suicide.
Let’s go back to the two disciples in the gospel. A simple question raised by their new companion triggers an eruption of resentment, grudges, disappointment and bitterness. They say to him: ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have been happening there these last few days’. In fact it was silly to assume that in a city overcrowded with Jewish pilgrims everybody must have heard about Jesus’ execution. This outburst of bitterness on the part of the disciples was their first step towards healing. Their minds were opening to understanding. Jesus in explaining the scriptures casts a completely new light on his own death. This new interpretation sparks new hope in the disciples’ minds. But a final step was required. It happened at the table in Emmaus. When Jesus broke the bread suddenly they recognized him.
With regard to our own problems we shouldn’t hesitate to tell God what and how we really feel. The greatest characters in the Bible did that: Abraham, Moses, Job and so on. ‘The truth will set you free’. When we express our true feelings we open up and look differently at our problems, keeping them in proportion. When we experience failure, the word of God, the sacraments and our community can help us to see further and deeper. At that point we discover that Jesus is present every day of our lives.