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Understanding the Word on the Journey in two Easter Season Texts

April 26, 2007
Philip and the Ethiopian, by Kedjela Markos, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia
In the two Lukan narratives of the disciples of Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) and today’s first reading of Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40), the roads from Jerusalem to Emmaus and Jerusalem to Gaza are the symbolic structures of the journeys through the Scriptures to Christ, and the journey from Christ to the Scriptures.
On the road to Emmaus (Luke 24 story) Jesus brings about a recognition of himself in the breaking of the bread and invitation to share life, victorious over death. Thus he inaugurates the time of the Church and the time of the repetition of sacramental signs, through which he continues to give the gift of life, given once and for all.
Jesus also brings about a recognition of himself through the prophecies of the Scriptures. The Ethiopian (Acts 8 story) is converted to the Good News of Jesus and asks what prevents him from being baptized. Luke has placed the baptism at a strategic position in his narrative: between the baptism of Samaritans and, in chapter 10, the baptism of a gentile. Both the Emmaus disciples and the Ethiopian court official have been forced to rethink and retell the whole story of Jesus in a new light, because of their new insights and understanding of God's word. They are also able to tell the stories of the scriptures in a whole new light, because of their new understanding of Jesus, the one about whom the scriptures spoke.
What does this narrative of Philip and the Ethiopian reveal about the missionary and evangelizing efforts of the churches? Acts 8:26-40 speaks of two pilgrimages of understanding that are to be made: one pilgrimage is made to the temple and to church, and is not only a physical journey but a spiritual walk through the pages of Scripture. The other pilgrimage is that to be made by the Church toward those who are struggling with the meaning of the Scriptural words and who are being attracted by God to deeper meaning and life.
When these two pilgrimages converge, requests are made for entry into the believing community. Doors are opened. Yet these doors swing back and forth. The Ethiopian court official is welcomed into the church community only to be sent forth as a bearer of the Good News. Philip disappears and the foreigner continues on his journey rejoicing.
The two Lukan texts of the Road to Emmaus and the Road to Gaza are complementary and constitute together the Christian journey. In the Emmaus story, Scripture is proposed as the key to understanding Jesus of Nazareth; in the Acts passage it is Jesus who is the key to understanding the Scriptures. There is a dynamic two-way movement between the texts. For in the story of two dejected disciples, and through the journey and baptism of one foreigner, we see what solid exegesis and proclamation of the Good News can really do!
Let me offer you this prayer for a deeper understanding of the Word of God in your life:
Lord, we thank you for your Word.
Thank you for your voice which speaks to us through the Scriptures.
May your Word transform us into witnesses,
prophets, men and women of the dawn.
Mark out the ways for us in the midst of our deserts.
Sustain the signs of your presence among us.
Keep alive your promises of life in our communities of faith,
and as we remember your loving kindness,
may we go as far as your Spirit leads us.
In the footsteps of the disciples of Emmaus and of Philip and the Ethiopian,
may our lives be the reflection of the unending journey of your own life-
so that the more we study the Scriptures,
the more we will find you;
and the more we come to know you,
the more we will be immersed in your Word,
that is truth and life for all ages. AMEN.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
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