August 13, 2021

Guest Column / Richard Etienne

Emmaus story in Gospel offers a model for evangelization

Richard Etienne“I can’t preach to others.” “I won’t know what to say.” “That is not my gift.”

Have you ever thought this? Is there another way in which to approach evangelization besides indiscriminately preaching in a public setting?

I believe the Gospel account of Jesus appearing to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35) offers some insights.

This happened immediately following the resurrection of Jesus. And the first lesson that one might learn from this story is that Jesus comes upon two of his followers as they are walking. He doesn’t immediately reveal his identity. He simply asks, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” (Lk 24:17)

He begins with their starting point. Said another way, he listens first to what is going on in other people’s lives before moving further. My question is: “Can you listen to other people tell their story?”

Only then does Jesus interject his interpretation to all that is shared. Only after we have “earned” the right to speak are we empowered to comment on the information shared.

You may have heard wonderful examples of missionaries who had this gift. Their first step was almost always to move among a population, live in and learn about their world and then begin to explain the Christian lessons that can be extracted from what has been learned up to that point.

We are told that these disciples did not recognize Jesus until they were “at table, [and] he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them” (Lk 24:30). Only then were their eyes opened—only after walking along, sharing personal stories and then sharing an intimate meal together did they come to know the risen Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (“Deus Caritas Est,” #1).

It is in relationship that evangelization can flourish. And something remarkable happened to the Apostles and other followers of Jesus because one day they are huddled in darkness and overcome with fear. Hours later, Peter is leading them, proclaiming the Messiah in public with abandon (Acts 2:14-41). Something significant changed in them.

Who are the individuals that you move among and share your life with: family, friends, co-workers? Listen to their stories and you will find an opportunity to share an insight about your relationship with the one who could walk on water and cure the sick.

(Richard Etienne has a degree in theology from Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad and resides in Newburgh, Ind.)

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