As an example of powerful Biblical interpretation which combines the different approaches approved by the Pontifical Biblical Commission of which I wrote yesterday, I would now like to present to you a powerful reflection by Michael B Kelly. This was originally presented as a keynote address to the Australian lesbian and gay Catholic group “Acceptance” back in 1997. An edited text is reprinted in his book, “Seduced by Grace”.
Michael’s interpretation is notable for the way in which he places the familiar story of Emmaus firmly within the broader context of Luke’s Gospel, and specifically its narrative of the Resurrection. In this, he is well within both the canonical tradition of looking at the Bible as a whole, as well as the literary/narrative approach. He stresses the psychological context of the disciples in the immmediate aftermath of the Crucifixion, but also the social context: the male leaders as religious insiders locked in fear of the authorities, but also unwilling to believe the reports of the women, who were outsiders. He also notes Luke’s background as an educated Greek, writing in Greek, for a Gentile audience, to whom same sex relationships would have appeared commonplace and morally neutral. This puts him firmly within the cultural anthropology approach, but also prepares the way for his great pastoral insight: as nothing is stated in the text about the sexual orientation of the disciples on the road, we may legitimately imagine them as gay men or lesbians. By placing his interpretation bang in the middle of the contextual approach, he transforms a familiar story into a profoundly fresh metaphor for our prophetic role in the church.
In summary, the way he retells the story is to emphasise the fear and disappointment of the leaders of the Christians over the Easter weekend. Women have reported the news of the reported resurrection, but the male leaders, holed up in fear of the Jewish authorities, disbelieve their witness – women were seen as outsiders, and not taken seriously in religious matters. Disillusioned, two of the disciples (possibly gay men or lesbians) tun their backs on the leadership in Jerusalem and make their way home to Emmaus. The homeward journey is familiar: they meet, but do not recognise, a traveller on the road, who joins with them in conversation. He listens attentively to their story, and sympathises with their dillusionment, troubles and despair. Arriving home, they invite him in, and the traveller accepts. (This point Kelly stresses: the traveller, whom we know to be the risen Lord, waits to be invited, which he is. He then enters their shared, home, wich is described as their “most intimate space”.)
Then, over a shared meal, obviously recalling the Eucharist, they finally recognise Him. The two are overcome with the power of what has happened. They realise that in the depths of their brokenness, Christ has been listening and accepting all their desolation and pain. When they felt most abandoned and lost, He has been with them, unrecognised. And he has entered fully into their own space, their own home.
This is where Kelly introduces his second great insight. Moving on from the familiar story of the road to Emmaus, he now emphasises the road away from Emmaus, the journey back to Jerusalem. There, they meet up with those they had earlier turned away from, and proclaim the jyful news that they encountered the risen Lord on the road, that they have spoken with Him, and shared a Eucharist. Now, the story of the Resurrection, told by them and the women, corroborated also by Peter (but alomost as an aside), is finally believed.
Reflecting on the story, it becomes a powerful metaphor for us as LGBT Catholics for our role in the instituional church today. Rejected and hurt by the church which should be preaching love, compassion and inclusion for all the oppressed of the world, it is right, he says, that we should turn our backs on the Jerusalem of the institutional church, and head home to our own spaces. There, in our hurt and pain, we will meet Jesus. We may not recognise Him, but He will be with us, listening to our stories, sharing our pain. Only when we invite him into our homes, into our private spaces, sharing a meal (or other refreshments?) will we recognise him.
At that point, filled with the knowledge of the resurrection and its meaning, we are called to return to Jerusalem to the institutional church, and proclaim to its recognised leaders, the reality and full significance of the Resurrection: and they will finally hear the message from us, the gay and lesbian men and women whom they have previously rejected.
This is a powerful story, told well. The rest of the book, ranging widely in subject matter, is equally impressive. Buy it, read it, and reflect.