So there they were, two guys on the road to Emmaus – – or as I have always contended – – two guys making a getaway and on the way out of town, Jerusalem. And then they run into this “other guy.” Remember?
The Gospel writer tells us that this other guy was Jesus – – the power of foresight found in the scriptural narrative. But, at no point in the remainder of the story, even in the breaking of the bread, does the “other guy” confess that he is Jesus.
It really would not have been a productive evangelization / catechetical moment if Jesus had revealed himself rather than the disciples discerning the presence of the Lord. That revelation at the beginning of the story would have overwhelmed the disciples. They would have been more focused on the “other guy” being Jesus. They would not come to eventually trust the “other guy” who patiently listened to their story, responded to them, and sought to offer context /meaning for them, and, as if that was not enough, the “other guy” stayed with them.
The two who were on the road to Emmaus returned with hearts burning. It was the result of the experience of Jesus. It was, most likely, not the intended outcome for the “other guy,” who, if Jesus, would have understood about human free will and was willing to risk it on these two guys on the road to Emmaus. Andrew Root, in Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, indicates that he has “realized that a youth ministry of influence has very little to do with the incarnation…. God became human to be with and for us, not simply to influence us toward this or that end. (This would actually be there heresy of docetism, which believed that Jesus only appeared to be human in order to influence us.)… The incarnation is not about influence but accompaniment.”
Root would probably identify the ministry of the “other guy” as one of place-sharing, or “standing so close to the other that his or her reality becomes my own, his or her suffering becomes mine”
And, herein, is the challenge for youth ministry. My immediate family – wife, five kids, four spouses / significant others, and three grandkids – provide an already overwhelming challenge towards standing so close. How I might provide incarnational ministry to the 140 on my programmatic database, the 670 on my mailing list, or all those hundreds and hundreds that prove that the above contact lists are literally inadequate? How can I be Jesus for them . . . or, more accurately in my personal goals, how can I be the “other guy” on that Emmaus road for them?
How can I? I can not.
How can you? You can not.
And, we should not seek to personally maximize the value of relationships with young people towards our own needs (which may or may not align themselves with the Lord’s plan.). Andrew Root would suggest that youth workers discontinue their use of relationships as a tool for conversion. Relationships are far too great a gift to minimize as a tool. They are not a means of conversion, but an end in and of themselves.
If we can not, who might? Parents, Grandparents, Confirmation Sponsors, Core Team members, neighbors =, and young people themselves. But are we inviting them to become “missionary disciples” willing to walk alongside others? Are we encouraging and equipping them to be an “other guy” who has a relationship with Jesus in their back pocket?
The answers to these question might not be in the job description of one who ministers to you, but is it in our hearts?
It is in the heart of Pope Francis. During World Youth Day 2013, the Holy Father issued a challenge to the Brazilian bishops. Reflecting on Jesus’s post-Resurrection journey to Emmaus, Francis said:
[W]e need a church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a church that accompanies them on their journey; a church able to make sense of the ‘night’ contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a church that realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture. Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus.
We need a church not of those who interject Jesus into each moment. We need a church of “other guys.”