In the unlikely event that you haven’t yet heard: there are two elections coming your way. One, for the local Council, this Thursday, followed by a General Election a month later. The professional pollsters are busy making their predictions. You may have your own hopes and expectations if politics is of any interest to you. But the final results will not be known until they are officially announced. However, I can predict one thing with a hundred percent certainty: the outcome will cause some people to celebrate, and others to be disappointed. That’s the nature of democracy, so aptly described by Winston Churchill in his famous quote: ‘Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.’
Nobody wants to be a loser; everyone wants to be on the winning side. Even when we support the underdog, it’s because we want to see him win. In the West we have developed the idea of ‘a moral win’. There are people who see it as an attempt to sweeten the bitterness of defeat. However, the political, technological and scientific dominance of the West hasn’t been accidental. Determination to turn defeat into triumph, not to give up after failure, has led to bettering individuals, nations and countries. This idea was derived from, and strengthened by, Christianity – the religion where the core belief is of apparent defeat transmuted into ultimate triumph.
In today’s gospel, we have two former followers of Jesus on their way out of Jerusalem. Resigned, embittered, hopeless and angry at the same time, they were hotly discussing their collapsed political project, namely Jewish Independence. Their response to an acquaintance’s question clearly showed their frustration: ‘Our own hope had been that [Jesus of Nazareth] would be the one to set Israel free.’ Their frustration only increased when they heard of reports from some women about Jesus’ alleged resurrection. They rejected those reports as ‘fake news.’ They were dragging their feet as they left Jerusalem behind them; the city where their recent great expectations had been dashed by a fiasco of epic proportions. But when they had poured out their frustration and disappointment in the presence of a stranger who joined them on their journey, room for hope had been made in their hearts and minds. And it was there that the process of re-evaluating the whole situation started for them.
Seven miles, the distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus, their destination, is about a 2-hour walk; plenty of time to talk and to think. Personally, my daily walk with the dog is the time when I can immerse myself completely in my thoughts. Many good ideas have been born as I have been walking; not-so-good ones too… For the two characters in today’s gospel, their walk involved a deep study of the scriptures, when their companion explained to them the meaning of the old prophecies; the meaning that cast new light on what had happened to Jesus. They grasped that new understanding when they sat down for supper; the very moment that they got it, Jesus disappeared from their view. Yet despite such a disappearance, their new hope was unbounded. A bit strange, isn’t it?
I do not think that Jesus accompanied the former followers on their way to Emmaus exactly as described in today’s gospel, remaining physically unrecognisable to them until the very last moment, and then disappearing into thin air. But I do believe it’s an embellished version of an event that really happened. Sometimes I get stuck when I’m grappling with a problem; the harder I try to solve it, the less I can tease it out. So, I set the problem aside and go out for a walk – that’s the advantage of having an active dog. Pretty much every time, I find a solution to the problem. Not that I talk to anyone or to the dog (the latter is hopeless in that respect); simply by putting some walking distance between me and the problem, a space is created to allow for a different, sometimes unconventional approach. Let’s go back to the two individuals on their way to Emmaus. They were educated Jews who knew the scriptures like the backs of their hands. In the white heat of the moment, they could see Jesus’ murder only as a disaster. But after they had talked it over, perhaps they shut up and let their minds wander freely, gradually reinterpreting the old prophecies in a completely new way, leading them to a sudden understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus didn’t necessarily tramp physically through the dust alongside them, but nevertheless he accompanied them on their way to new comprehension of the outcome.
What lesson is there here for each one of us? Firstly, that nothing in your life is a total, irreversible failure; as long as you live, you can try to use it as a springboard to something else. Secondly, you are never left to your own devices; Jesus always walks beside you, even if it’s sometimes hard to see him. With his assistance, hope never dies. And last but not least, walking can prove to be a very useful activity in more ways than one.