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The Journey to Emmaus: A Model for Educators

April 20, AD2016 1 Comment

MorgueFIles - road

One of my favourite readings during the Easter Season is the Gospel reading on the journey of Jesus  together with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It is a personal favourite since it speaks directly to me as an educator. I have always seen this story as a good model for teachers.

The Journey Begins with Downcast Faces

The journey  begins with the two disciples of Jesus in deep conversation on the Sunday after the events of Good Friday. We do not know the exact reason for their trip to Emmaus. Some would argue that they wanted to go to Emmaus because they  wanted to forget all the things that have happened in Jerusalem. Others say that these two disciples were really from Emmaus, and they wanted to return to their normal lives after the tragedy that they had experienced.

No matter what reasons they had for undertaking that journey, we can be sure of one thing — their hearts were filled with discouragement and sadness. As St. Luke writes, “Jesus  asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. (Luke 24:17 NIV) The reason for their sadness becomes apparent  in verses 20 – 21:  “The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:20-21)

Like many of their companions, the two disciples pinned their hopes on  Jesus. They looked to him as the long awaited Messiah — the one to liberate them from the evils of the Roman Empire. But, sad to say, their hopes were dashed by the religious leaders. Their Savior was crucified like a common criminal.

Many young people today come inside educational institutions  with a certain sense of sadness, discouragement and disillusionment. Some bear the tragic effects of broken and dysfunctional families. Some have become discouraged by the way the adults have run  society. Others, meanwhile, have become disillusioned by the institutions that they had hoped would give them a sense of meaning in life. Worldwide, many young people are burdened with the effects of poverty, war, climate change, and even the refugee crisis. Like the disciples, many of them are starting their journey in life with their faces downcast.

“Wasting Time” with the Young

It is at this moment of discouragement and disillusionment that Jesus joins his disciples in the journey. Although they fail to recognise him, Jesus immediately shows interest in the two disciples by asking them the question: “What were you discussing?” He wants to know what is on their minds. He wants to understand their situation. He begins his journey with them without forming any judgement. He listens and engages them in a dialogue.

The first key in educating young people is getting to understand their situation.  Educators  can easily do this by reading a lot of books and browsing through the Internet to get the latest studies on the world of young people. But the best way is still the way that Jesus uses in approaching his two disciples: He comes to them. He journeys with them. He offers an ear to hear the concerns of their heart. He talks with them.

To be an effective educator of young people, one has to “waste time” with them. For  adults, “wasting time” with young people is precisely that — a waste of  time. Adults have other “consequential” matters to attend to. They  have meetings to attend. They  have jobs to fulfil. They  have lessons to plan.

Yet, if teachers consider the young people an important part of the Church, then they need to give them all the necessary time. It is only by spending time with young people that one gets to understand how they view the world and life in general. Educating young people is not only limited to inside the classrooms. To be an effective teacher, one has to “meet them in their places”. Education is done in the trenches of the streets, the playground, the music halls, the football fields, in whatever places young people find themselves.

Finding Meaning in Experience

But Jesus, does not only hear the concerns of his two disciples. Towards the middle of the journey, Jesus begins explaining scriptures to them. He enlightens them. He gives their experiences a new meaning.

In the field of education, one of the important role that  teachers  have is to help young people find meaning in their life experiences. The wisdom of educators could hopefully shed light on some of the important questions young people have.

However, just a note of warning: when I say that teachers could shed light on the experiences of young people, it does not mean that they are to dictate to them. The beauty of the Emmaus experience of the disciples precisely lies in the fact that it happened within a heart-to-heart dialogue.

If educators are to help young people find meaning in their experiences, then they must be willing to enter into an open dialogue with them. They must allow the young to speak and share their dreams and desires. At the same time, they must not also be afraid to proclaim the truth about the Divine, about faith and life to them. This was the wisdom behind the way Jesus enlightened his disciples. He understood their pain, but he was also able to show them the beauty of God’s work behind their pain.

Stay With Us …

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. (Luke 24:28-29)

The journey to Emmaus began with Jesus as a stranger to the disciples. Then as the they went on the road, the stranger slowly became a travelling companion  And when they finally reach their destination, the stranger — the travelling companion —becomes a friend. The two disciples invite Jesus to stay with them. The two are cognisant of the dangers of travelling at night. They open their hearts to their companion and  show him their concern. Hence, a relationship, a friendship, is born.

Young people are quite sensitive to realise who among their teachers are genuine or fake. They usually guard themselves when in the company of educators. They weigh the motives of the adults who deal with them. Perhaps they ask themselves whether these teachers are really concerned about them or are just after something else. The joy of educating  young people comes when a relationship of trust and friendship is born.

Just like the disciples, it is a joy when young people  say to their teachers: Stay with us — continue to guide our lives. Continue to enlighten us. Come and be our friend.

But Jesus does not only wish to be seen as a friend by the two disciples. “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” (Luke 24:30)

Educators should not fool themselves into believing that the goal of education is just to have wonderful relationships with the young people one is entrusted with. Like Jesus, the goal of education is to open the eyes of the young people so that they can recognise the presence of something Divine in their lives. Education should be able to help young people see that life is not just about gaining success or earning money or having a job — life is much more than these things.

The Return to Jerusalem

The journey to Emmaus does not actually end in Emmaus. As Luke says,

And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:33-35)

The journey to Emmaus  becomes a journey back to Jerusalem. But this time the disciples return to Jerusalem with a renewed sense of vigor and faith. They have been witnesses to the power of the Resurrection. They come barging in to the room where the other disciples are and boldly proclaim: “The Lord is risen!” Their sadness and discouragement are no more. They have seen the Lord.

Great teachers are those who give their students a renewed sense in life. It is a joy to  find students who come out of the classrooms or school everyday having more courage to face the challenges that they have in life.  They may still have vestiges of sadness, discouragement, or disillusionment; but having come into the presence of an educator who truly cares for them, they are now able to live their youthful lives with a renewed sense of vigor.

Truly, as the two disciples expressed to one another: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32), may there also be teachers who can make the hearts of students burn with the passion to learn.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Mon hails from the Philippines and currently works as a school head in an affordable private high school in Manila. His passion lies in bringing educational opportunities to young people who have less in life. Someday, he dreams of writing his own book that relates the Gospels to the daily life of teachers and educators.

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