Three friends were on their lunch break and decided to take a walk together in Railroad Park downtown (Birmingham). They got into a conversation about current events, and although they weren’t arguing, the conversation got very intense.
As they were walking and conversing, a young man came up behind them and asked, “What have you been discussing as you take your walk?” The three looked at each other, wondering why this man intruded upon their conversation. But there was something about him that told them they needn’t worry. So, one of them, named Ashley said, “We were talking about all the terrible things that have been happening lately.” The man asked, “What things?” And Ashley said, “What do you mean ‘What things?’ Have you been living under a rock? Haven’t you heard about all the recent shootings? Haven’t you heard about the teenage boy who was shot because he knocked on the wrong door, or the woman who was shot because she pulled into the wrong driveway? Don’t you know there are serious divisions in our country, and so many people seem to hate each other just because they are different? And some people are worried about war. And no one seems to know what to do about it, or if they think they know, they can’t agree on what to do.”
And the man said, “Those indeed are terrible things. But we mustn’t give up. There are many instances in the Bible where God rescued His people. And in the Gospel of John, it says that God so loved the world that he gave His only Son to save the world. And throughout all the Gospels this Son, Jesus, spoke about love and forgiveness and mercy. Not only did He talk about those things, He lived them. He spoke about caring for those considered of no account. He healed many people and ate with those despised and scorned. And He told His followers not to be afraid, but to take up the crosses that came their way and go the extra mile in loving others. People had Him killed for talking and acting as he did. But He rose from the dead on the third day.” And with many other examples, the man talked about Jesus and about faith, hope and love.
As they continued walking, the man was about to take his leave of them, but they persuaded him to have lunch with them. When they finished lunch, the man vanished from their sight. They asked each other, “Who was that? Could it have been that Jesus he was talking about? Didn’t we feel a stirring in our hearts when he talked to us?” And the three friends decided that, even though they didn’t have a solution to the problems of the world, their encounter with Jesus inspired them to work together to help make the world a better place. And if anyone asked them why, they would tell the story of how they recognized Jesus in “breaking bread” with Him.
Thank you for indulging me in telling that story. We encounter the risen Jesus every time we celebrate the Eucharist. May His gift of His very self – poured out for us, inspire us to love and work with each other and help build up the kingdom.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.