What connection can there be between today’s gospel, Luke 24.13-35, and the General Election, to say nothing of the illustration, which shows a very Jewish Jesus at table with his disciples? Is this to be another of those highly-contrived discourses one occasionally hears from the pulpit when the clergy try very hard to be ‘relevant’? I hope not. In any case, I’m more preached to than preaching, being only a nun; but the gospel must speak to our everyday lives, which include politics, or we are living in a little bubble of our own making from which, for all our piety, we effectively exclude God.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus had an odd experience. Someone walked with them in their sorrow and distress whom they did not recognize, but to whom they instinctively warmed. True to their values of hospitality and welcome to the stranger, they invited him into their house to share their supper, and knew him then, as if for the first time. So far, so good. We all know those moments of recognition, I call them ‘Emmaus moments,’ when we have a kind of private epiphany. They tend to be both wonderful and challenging at the same time. For Cleopas and the other disciple, they were a revelation — not only of who Jesus was, but of the way in which the scriptures were to be interpreted in relation to him. Then, as with any biblical theophany, they were left apparently alone with a mission to fulfil, which involved another long walk that same evening, back to Jerusalem, to share their news with the Eleven. A moment of privileged insight also comes with great responsibility.
The calling of a General Election has been greeted with the usual amount of comment and instant interpretation. Some of it is predictably lightweight; some rather more substantial; and some a little troubling. For example, some of those weary of party politics have said they will not vote or will spoil their ballot papers as a protest. I myself find that questionable. It is not just that people died to win us the right to vote; not just that the recent Referendum in Turkey shows how fragile parliamentary democracy can be; but that the protest implied by not voting or spoiling one’s ballot paper is not really, to my way of thinking, a protest at all. It provides a comfortable feeling of not being part of the messy political process, but I question whether we have the right to do that, and whether it actually achieves anything. We keep our own hands clean, as it were, and leave the rest to go their own way, a bit like Pilate washing his hands at the trial of Jesus. I daresay there are some who can endorse every word of their chosen party’s manifesto; most of us probably have to decide which, on balance, we believe would be in the best interests of the country as a whole, the common good in other words, and that can mean swallowing some very unattractive policy pledges along with those we think right. We vote with many an internal hesitation but we do so because we believe that not to vote is worse.
How do we decide what will be in the best interests of all, of the common good? We can reread Populorum Progressio, one of the outstanding expositions of Catholic Social teaching of the last fifty years; or we can simply think about today’s gospel. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were clearly people of integrity. They read the scriptures; they lived good lives; they welcomed the stranger. Crucially, they put their values into practice. They were seekers of truth; and once they were convinced, they acted. We cannot dismiss the General Election as of no consequence to us or take refuge in a kind of moral isolationism. For all of us there is the prospect of several weeks of thinking really hard about matters many of us understand imperfectly, if at all. It will be hard work — especially if we are convinced we already have all the answers — but I don’t see how we can avoid it. With the right to vote comes the duty to exercise it responsibly.
And what about that illustration? I think it challenges many of our preconceptions. We tend to think of the rediscovery of the Jewishness of Jesus as a twentieth century phenomenon. To learn that it comes from twelfth-century England is amazing, and we can spend time thinking about the history of anti-semitism in this country and all the injustices perpetrated over the centuries. This morning, however, I would suggest another and simpler question to consider. What does it teach us about the welcome we extend to the stranger and alien, not just as individuals but as a nation state? What does the Emmaus story have to teach us about the values we will bring to making our electoral choices?