Today we look at the story of the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35.
This is a wonderfully rich story, and it is worth taking some time with it.
Two of Jesus’ followers are walking along. One of the great images of the Christian life is a journey. We are not people who have arrived, but are called to be moving forward toward our goal, “the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).” They are talking about their experiences of the weekend. Jesus starts walking along with them, but they don’t recognize Him. This seems common in encounters with the resurrected Jesus, but it is also true for us. Jesus is always with us, but we don’t always recognize Him. He says, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” Jesus is very good at asking the right question. Their response is wonderfully ironic: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” This is great, because He is the only one who really does know. The Gospels often do fun things like that. Jesus doesn’t let on. He says, “What things?” He, of course doesn’t ask because He needs to know, but to get them to tell their story. We shall see a lot of this in Luke’s sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. Most Catholics have not had practice in telling their story. If you needed to tell your faith story, what would you say? Then Jesus unpacks the Scriptures for them, and explains what these events really mean. Notice that Jesus asked them to bring forward what they had, but it is He who teaches. This dynamic is familiar. In the accounts of the multiplying of loaves and fishes, Jesus asks the disciples to bring forward what they have, but it is He who feeds. We see this again in a resurrection encounter in John 21:10-13, also with bread and fish. For now, however, Jesus is opening the Scriptures for them. They knew the stories in the Scriptures, but it is only in the light of the risen Jesus that people can see the full significance of what they mean. I would also suggest that the events of our lives can only be fully understood in the light of the story of salvation. Jesus acted like He was going further, but they urged him to stay, showing hospitality. Hospitality is tough during this lockdown, but it is something for Christians to be pondering. “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2).” We see them entertaining not only angels but Jesus Himself. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20).” We are not only called to be hospitable to Jesus by welcoming other people, but welcome Jesus directly with our prayer and attentiveness to Him, His teaching and His presence in our lives, and our willingness to examine and change our lives in His Light. Pope Benedict was fond of encouraging people to take the time to let Jesus be “our best friend.”
Breaking of the Bread “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:30-31).” The taking, blessing, breaking and giving was, in Jewish practice, how the meal was begun. I haven’t seen any commentary on this, but it seems to me that that action would be the proper function of the host, and Jesus was a guest. When something doesn’t quite fit I want to know why. I suggest this is a larger truth: when we invite Jesus in, He is in charge, He is the Host, and He is the one who feeds. Christians would associate Jesus’ actions with the celebration of the Eucharist, and of course when we gather for the Eucharist, we are not the hosts; Jesus is the host. This would remind us we recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. After He vanishes, they asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures for to us (Luke 24:32).” Once again, we don’t often recognize Jesus at work in our lives until we reflect back afterwards, and then it becomes clear.
Then they shared the story with others and got it confirmed, and they learned they were not alone. We remember the Visitation, in which Mary went to Elizabeth, and her experience was affirmed. This is one of the (many) reasons we need Christian community.
Jesus is still walking with us.
Being present to another
One of the key factors in any friendship, in any love relationship, is how we are present to each other. What is it like to have someone give you their full attention, to act like you are important to them, that they are focusing on you? We also know what it is like to have someone act like they are barely aware of you, that their minds are elsewhere, that they are just doing what they need to do to get on to something else. It makes a big difference. And let’s be honest, there might have been some times when we were dealing with someone that we didn’t want to deal with, and we let it show. How did we act then? When we are with someone who is precious to us, how do we act.
Some moments are more crucial than others. Sometimes we might be doing different things, but generally aware of the other person, and that is good. Two guys in the same boat fishing, not speaking, not looking at each other, letting their minds drift, but it’s okay. It’s good to be together, but don’t need to do much. If, on the other hand, someone important to you comes and says, “After what has just happened, I’ll never be the same.” This is not a good time to say, “Go ahead, I can listen and watch TV at the same time.” A couple can be sitting in the same room, one reading a book, one catching up on the news, but if they are doing that during their wedding, there is a problem. Sometimes people are chattering for the joy of it, and what they talk about is not that important. Sometimes people are sharing their most precious secrets, thing close to their hearts, and it takes a lot of trust to do that. Then it is most important to be especially attentive. To do that poorly with harm the relationship, but to do it well can strengthen the relationship a great deal.
God is always reaching out to us, but very often we don’t respond well. “I was ready to respond to those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said: here I am! Here I am! To a nation that did not invoke my name. I have stretched out my hands all day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own designs (Isaiah 65:1-2).”
“After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in replay, ‘Lord it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’ And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone (Matthew 17:1-8).” We get a rare moment in which the Father speaks from heaven, and His message is the importance of listening to Jesus. Of course, these were Jesus’ disciples, and the inner circle of His disciples at that. They probably thought they were already listening, and that this message should be for others (fortunately, they had the sense not to argue). I would suggest that we often do not listen as well as we think we do. It is something we can grow in.
During the agony in the garden (Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus brings His closest friends, Peter, James and John, and asks them to keep watch and pray. They fall asleep. Jesus didn’t need them to do anything except be present and attentive. He was having a really difficult time, and needed some friends’ support. I’m sure it hurt that they failed, and it will be remembered until the end of time how they failed.
At the Last Supper, and during the celebration of the Eucharist ever since, Jesus is sharing Himself most intimately, Who He really is, body, blood, soul, divinity. He draws us into His death and resurrection, His ultimate sacrifice of love. During this time in which people are separated from the Mass, we may want to reflect on how we tend to respond to God’s gift. It is almost a universal problem that our minds wander during Mass, but within the limits of our fallen human ability, how do we treat this holiest of moments? How might we grow in our response?
Deeper into the meaning of Holy Thursday and Good Friday
This Holy Week brings with it a challenge: as people are physically separated, not just from each other but from the celebration of our central mysteries in the liturgy. We have a unique opportunity to focus especially on what the celebration means. The more deeply we understand it, the more fully we can live it.