On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. They were prevented from recognizing him.
He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.
The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”
He said to them, “What things?”
They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”
Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.
When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.
This is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. And it’s one of my favorites, too. It’s been used as an example of how to study the Bible for years and rightly so. I can also see it as an example of Jesus’ statement, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them” (Matthew 18.20).
There’s so much going on in this story — how people expect thing to be, how things really are, and how things really aren’t what we think they really are and point to something else. So let’s get started.
As we’ve seen, when John tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection, he’s telling the story of New Creation. In the middle of that story, Jesus is thought to be the gardener (John 20.15), glancing back to the creation story/ies from Genesis. While it may be hard to recognize, Luke is doing the same thing.
Luke tells us that this story takes place on “that same day” (verse 13). That is, it’s still “the first day of the week” (verse 1), the “first day” of New Creation.
We know that one of the “two disciples” was Cleopas (verse 18). His companion was mostly likely his wife, Mary (cf., John 19.25). What they tell Jesus gives us a glimpse into how much of the first century Jewish world understood the Messiah (or Christ). When they confess to him their own expectations, they say, “Jesus was a prophet and more so. We thought he was the Messiah, the one who would rescue Israel. But, our leaders handed him over to the Romans and they crucified him.” In other words, they believed that Jesus was the Messiah. As such, they expected him to defeat the pagans and, finally, free Israel.
But, “how things really are” is Jesus was killed by the pagans! So, he can’t be the Messiah!
Jesus response is also quite telling. He tells them, as I’ve said time and time again, they’ve got the story wrong. Israel wasn’t going to be rescued from suffering but through suffering. The Messiah would be Israel when Israel couldn’t.
When we read that Jesus “interpreted...all the scriptures” we shouldn’t think that he had some “proof texts” up his sleeve. No. We’re to understand that he retold them the whole story — from beginning to end, from Genesis to Chronicles (the last book of the Hebrew Bible) — about how this was to happen; that this was the way it was always supposed to happen. The suffering and death of the Messiah was not a “plan B.” It was the plan all along.
As they were going on their way, Cleopas and Mary invited the “stranger” to stay with them. So he did. And something amazing happened.
In this part of Luke’s story, he glances back to the first “meal” ever recorded in the Bible. The woman took some fruit and ate it. She then gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. And “at that moment, their eyes were opened…” (Genesis 3.6-7; NLT).
Here, Cleopas and Mary are eating dinner with their traveling companion. The companion “took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” and their eyes, too, “were opened.” In both stories, the couples gain new understanding, fresh comprehension. Their worldview changes.
In the first story, things became broken, death entered, and creation became enslaved. In this telling of the story, death has been defeated. Things can now be healed. Creation can start afresh. New Creation has been born!
Luke tells us this story in such a way as to invite us to participate in it. Every time we “break bread this way,” the resurrected Jesus is being made known. Every time we tell the story this way, we are celebrating, not how the world “really is,” but how the world is really supposed to be.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC