Pope Francis’ Lesson from Emmaus, for Queer Christians

 In the Gospel for the third Sunday of Easter, we read once again the familiar story of the Journey to Emmaus. What is less familiar, but of major importance for LGBT Christians, is the sequel – the journey FROM Emmaus, back to Jerusalem.

Jesus Appears At Emmaus, Gay passion of Christ series

Jesus Appears At Emmaus, Gay passion of Christ series (Source: Jesus in Love blog)

 While in Brazil for World Youth Day last year, Pope Francis also spoke to the bishops of Brazil, about the “Miracle of Aperecida”, about appreciation for the path taken by the Cburch in Brazil – and about the  “The icon of Emmaus as a key for interpreting the present and the future”.

Introducing the subject, Francis noted the context of the disciples who were leaving Jerusalem in a state of dejection:
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Before all else, we must not yield to the fear once expressed by Blessed John Henry Newman: “… the Christian world is gradually becoming barren and effete, as land which has been worked out and is become sand”. We must not yield to disillusionment, discouragement and complaint. We have laboured greatly and, at times, we see what appear to be failures. We feel like those who must tally up a losing season as we consider those who have left us or no longer consider us credible or relevant.

Let us read once again, in this light, the story of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-15). The two disciples have left Jerusalem. They are leaving behind the “nakedness” of God. They are scandalized by the failure of the Messiah in whom they had hoped and who now appeared utterly vanquished, humiliated, even after the third day (vv. 17-21). Here we have to face the difficult mystery of those people who leave the Church, who, under the illusion of alternative ideas, now think that the Church – their Jerusalem – can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important. So they set off on the road alone, with their disappointment. Perhaps the Church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age. It is a fact that nowadays there are many people like the two disciples of Emmaus; not only those looking for answers in the new religious groups that are sprouting up, but also those who already seem godless, both in theory and in practice.

Faced with this situation, what are we to do?

We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning.

Francis’ core message here, strikes me as remarkably similar to the lesson from the same passage, pointed to by the Australian Michael B Kelly, which I summarized here some years ago, in “The Journey FROM Emmaus: Gay and Lesbian Prophetic Role“. It is tempting for lesbian and gay Christians to leave the established church (just as the disciples on the road to Emmaus had left their own recognized leaders behind in Jerusalem), and at times may even be necessary for us to do so, as a matter of simple spiritual health and integrity. However, having done so, it is entirely possible that we can meet the risen Christ outside the Church – just as the disciples met him outside Jerusalem, going away. Having met him, we then have an obligation to return to the Church, taking to them the essential message of the Gospel, a message of radical equality and inclusion – just as the disciples, having met Christ at Emmaus, went running back to Jerusalem, to show the designated religious leaders of the early Christian community, how they were rather missing the point, and failing to see the truth of the resurrection.


Kelly, Michael B: “Seduced by Grace: Contemporary spirituality, Gay experience and Christian faith

Goss, Robert: Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible

Guest, DerynMona WestRobert E. Goss, and Thomas Bohache, (eds)The Queer Bible Commentary

Sharpe, Keith. The Gay Gospels: Good News for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered People

 

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