April 5, 2007
Luke 24: 13-35
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon
“That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred” (Luke 24: 13).
|Supper at Emmaus by Georg Muehlberg|
from Christ's Life in Pictures by the Rev. Geo. A. Keith, SJ (1918)
We’d like to know a lot more about this story than St. Luke tells us. We’d like to know where Emmaus is; scholars haven’t been able to identify it in today’s Israel. Who was the 2d disciple, the companion of Cleopas? We can very reasonably suppose it was his wife or perhaps his daughter because St. John identifies “Mary of Clopas” as one of the faithful women who stayed by Jesus’ cross (John 19:25). If they already knew that “some women from our group … were at the tomb early in the morning and didn’t find his body” but had “reported seeing a vision of angels,” and others had confirmed that the tomb was empty (Luke 24:22-24), why didn’t they believe it or at least stay around for more information? Didn’t they remember that Jesus had 3 times foretold his death and resurrection?
How long did it take them to walk 7 miles? At a very good pace on level ground, it would take 2 hours, but Judea’s ground isn’t level by any means, and a normal pace might require 4 hours or more; besides which, people walk more slowly when they’re conversing. At what point did “Jesus himself draw near and walk with them,” and thus how long was he part of their conversation? How was it that neither of them recognized the Teacher whose disciples they were, especially if one of them had in fact been at his crucifixion?
Unfortunately, St. Luke seems to have erased his server, and in this life we’ll never know the answers for sure.
St. Luke does tells us what we need to know. He tells us the Good News, the Gospel: “The Lord has truly been raised” (24:34) and he’s made known to us “in the breaking of the bread” (24:35). He tells us that whatever happened to Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures, that Jesus walks with his disciples, and that those whose hearts burn for Jesus will find him.
Cleopas and his wife or friend walk for miles—however many—with Jesus as their companion on the journey. The purpose of the Son of God’s becoming human was to walk with us and lead us; to be our companion on the way toward eternity. Jesus always walks with us. The Good Shepherd, “he guides me in right paths” and “leads me beside restful waters” and “gives me repose in verdant pastures” (Ps 23:1-3). These 2 travelers don’t start with restful hearts, but Jesus restores their hearts along the way and in fact converts them into evangelizers who can’t wait to tell others they’ve come to know Jesus in a new way (Luke 24:33,35).
Even when I have to traverse a “dark valley,” he is “at my side” (Ps 23:4). Cleopas and the other disciple surely were in a dark valley: “we were hoping that [Jesus] would be the one to redeem Israel,” but the rulers crucified him (Luke 24:20-21). They’re despondent. Their hopes have been crushed.
When we’re in highly emotional states—from suffering, from grief, from anger, from joy, from giddiness—we seldom recognize God’s presence, seldom see God at work in our lives. That may explain why Cleopas and companion don’t recognize Jesus. They can’t see beyond their own immediate state of mind and heart. I guess that’s a form of self-centeredness, which even in a fairly neutral condition—like this one—blinds us to reality, even to what’s right in front of us.
Jesus teaches them—they come to see this eventually—that their experience, viz., what they saw happening to him and what they heard from the other disciples—can be understood in the light of the Word of God. Jesus “interprets to them … all the Scriptures” (24:27). He shows how the Scriptures shine a light on the events they’ve witnessed. If we bring the Word of God to bear on our own experiences, they take on a different meaning, a deeper meaning; we can see God’s hand in our lives. Such-and-such has happened to me; I’m feeling in such-and-such a state today—what is God trying to tell me thru this? What part of Jesus’ story or Israel’s story or the Psalms will help me make sense of what I’m going thru?
“He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (24:30-31). In St. Luke’s writings—here in the Gospel and also in the Acts of the Apostles—and in other writings of the 1st Christians, “the breaking of the bread” is the 1st name given to the celebration of the Eucharist. The formula that Luke uses here, “took, blessed, broke, and gave,” is a Eucharistic formula; which isn’t to say that Jesus was offering Mass for Cleopas and his friend! But it does recall Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves for a hungry crowd, and his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. “In the breaking of bread he was made known to them.” And we continue to encounter Jesus in person in the breaking of the bread, in the Eucharist. He is here at our Mass: in his Scriptures, in his priest, in his disciples, and shortly, under the signs of bread and wine. If our eyes are held back from literally recognizing him, our faith does see him in the Blessed Sacrament: his body and blood, soul and divinity. As we proclaim at every Mass, how blessed we are to be called to his supper, to come here as his guests, to eat this meal he’s prepared for us—the very same body and blood that walked those miles between Jerusalem and Emmaus, the body and blood now risen and living in eternity, the Jesus who intends to accompany us on our own journey toward eternal life.