01 May Want to Hear the Real News?
Fr. Denis Lemieux
Read any good fake news lately? Come across any alternative facts that you’d like to share? How’s the narrative framing business these days? Going well, or going Orwell?
It is one of the perils of a newspaper like Restoration that the time lag between an article’s appearance and when it was written is such that the buzz words and hot takes of the day may be old news indeed by the time it appears.
But as I am writing this April article in early February, the media are a-buzzin’ with concerns about all the above: news fake and real, competing narratives and facts, and Orwellian manipulation of reality.
Oddly enough, this all came to mind as I was pondering this “Word Made Flesh” article on the Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, the Gospel of the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-25).
In the midst of this story so familiar to us—the two disciples meeting and failing to recognize the Risen Christ, their extended conversation with him about Recent Events of Note, and finally their astonished recognition of him in the breaking of the bread—I see the deeper answer to this whole question of news vs. narrative, fact vs. fiction, well vs. Orwell.
It lies in the response to what must be among the funniest things ever said in the whole Bible, certainly in the Gospels. One of the disciples, responding to Jesus’ question as to why he is so sad, bursts out with “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” (v. 18). Thanks for the laugh, Cleopas!
Because, of course, the reality is that Jesus is the only person in or out of Jerusalem who has any notion whatsoever of what has just taken place there. As in, the salvation of the world. The definitive defeat of sin, death, and the devil. The re-creation of the human person radiant in the glory of the resurrected flesh of Christ.
You know, stuff like that. Cleopas and his companion know the outer shell of the facts—Jesus was a good man, he died, and now some folks say they’ve seen him around—but have no idea what those facts really mean, what the truth of the matter is. They are good journalists, in other words.
So, read any good fake news lately? Or, as I like to call it, the news! Now, don’t get defensive, any journalists out there reading this article. I am not some wild-eyed conspiracy theorist: as in “The media are lying to you!” That is always possible in our fallen condition, but I am saying something much more elemental than that.
Namely, we are all in the position of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We know what we’ve seen; we know what we’ve heard. Do we really imagine that that’s all there is to the story? That’s the reality of things? That, and that alone, is the news?
If we do, we become purveyors of fake news and alternative facts indeed, framing a most partial and fragmentary picture of current events inside a narrative frame wholly of our own making, and calling it “the news of the day.”
And if we do it knowingly, fully aware that our narrative frame has cropped and skewed the true picture of things out of any relation to reality, then we are indeed engaged in an Orwellian task of manipulation and deceit, and it is not well with us, not at all.
So back to the Gospel. Jesus of course responds to Cleopas’ amusing faux pas by gently yet thoroughly leading the two disciples through the whole of the Jewish Scriptures starting with Moses and all the prophets (v. 27) to show them how all of this was exactly what God intended and served God’s purposes, contrary to all appearances.
(Who wouldn’t have liked to listen in on that little Bible study!)
But he prefaced it all with those luminous words that have always struck me as the deep answer to so many of our questions about unaccountable and intolerable events in our lives and the life of the world: Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things, and so enter into his glory? (v. 26)
We live in a world where so many things have happened, are happening, are going to happen that cause us so much distress.
We may disagree about what things are truly distressful and which only seem to be so. (I’m not going there in this article.) But I don’t think there are too many people in the year 2017 who are blithely sure that “all is well in the garden,” that all things are unfolding in a beautiful way towards a better future.
But we have to accept that there is a lot of fake news out there. That is, we don’t have a complete picture of reality at all—ever!—and all presentations of the times we are living in are fatally flawed by that incompletion.
And so … Emmaus. And so … walk with Jesus time. And so … let him give us a word not just for our troubled times but for our own troubled hearts, our own distressed or anguished spirits, our own downcastness.
It is the only way to break free from the competing narratives and fact-claims of our own divided muddled hearts, let alone of our fractious and polarized socio-political discourse.
He probably won’t explain to us the deep geo-political meaning of world events; he won’t even tell us the precise meaning of our own sufferings and afflictions; he certainly is not going to tell us precisely how it’s all going to work out over the months and years ahead (spoiler alert, though: in the end Jesus wins!).
But he will tell us that all of this is taken up into the mysterious necessity of the suffering of the Christ. All of this is only given its true and definitive “narrative framing” by that core key event of the Son of God laying down his life for love so as to take it up again, and being borne into glory, and bearing us into glory in and with him.
All events personal and societal, whatever else they mean, only take on their true and definitive meaning in their sharing in that one event we call the Paschal Mystery.
You know, there is one piece of news that never gets dated, that is relevant at any time of year, but never more so than when you will be receiving this issue of Restoration. One fact that is not an alternative among alternatives, that is free of all fakery, that is true, true, true, all the way through. And it is this:
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling on death by death, and on those in the tombs lavishing life. Christ is risen, truly He is risen, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.