2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: On the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)
13That very same day, two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and they were talking together about all that had happened. 15Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; 16but something prevented them from recognizing him. 17He said to them, “What matters are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped short, their faces downcast.
18Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, “You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.” 19“What things?” he asked. “All about Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered, “who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; 20and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. 21Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; 22and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, 23and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. 24Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.”
25Then he said to them, “You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! 26Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?” 27Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.
28When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; 29but they pressed him to stay with them. “It is nearly evening,” they said, “and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. 31And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; but he had vanished from their sight. 32Then they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?”
33They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, 34who said to them, “Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognized him at the breaking of bread.
2. 1- Explanation
This passage of the Gospel is divided into four parts, depending on the places and people:
A. The Road from Jerusalem to Emmaus: (Luke 24:13-14) The distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus is about 11 km (60 furlongs or stadia). The two disciples left Jerusalem and headed for Emmaus. Throughout his life, Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem, in order to die there, to rise again, and thus to bring salvation to the world (Luke 9:51). Leaving the city means doing the opposite to the journey Jesus made, and leaving Jerusalem means an abandonment of the Cross, the Resurrection and the Community. This brings with it feelings of disappointment and the collapse of messianic expectations.
B. After the entry of Jesus on the scene (24:15-27), he explained the Scriptures to them: this is equivalent to the first part of Mass, the Liturgy of the Word.
B. 1 A first dialogue with the disciples (24:15-24). The behaviour of Jesus is that of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep to return it to the fold. The presence of Jesus leads them to confess their fears and questions. Jesus has come as a listener; he has a special way of behaving: he approaches them, walks with them, questions them and listens to them. The two disciples seem to be sad; they have discussed events between themselves and reminded each other of their life as it used to be. They had expected a political liberation, but Jesus has risen in his transfigured body, and their eyes do not recognize him.
B.2 The intervention of Jesus (24:25-27). Jesus explains to the two disciples the mystery of suffering in the Scriptures. His explanation was intended to give them the opportunity to see the events in a different light. He spoke with them about the Messiah of the Scriptures, who came to free his people by his crucifixion and death. Thus, we find ourselves at the peak of the contrast between military and political liberation, what was expected of the Messiah, and what really happened, in his torture, crucifixion and death. But how can one recognize this free gift of Jesus, in his suffering and death, as liberation and salvation? Only the Scriptures, which Jesus now explains to them, give an adequate answer. The two disciples express their impressions of their companion’s explanation in the words, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?” (v.32). Their encounter with Christ, the Word of God, inflames their hearts. Yet, they did not recognize him, for his body had been transformed. With regard to the Resurrection, we can make the following comparisons: it is like the grain of wheat that dies in the ground, is transformed and produces an ear of wheat; it is like the caterpillar which becomes a cocoon, and then a butterfly.
C. Upon arrival at the house (24:28-32), the breaking of the bread. This element in the narrative may be compared to the second part of the Mass. After the arrival in Emmaus, the text speaks clearly of the ritual of the Eucharist: “Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them.” Then he disappeared before their eyes because he had become present in the Holy Eucharist, since Jesus was not present twice in the same place, for his luminous and glorified body is the same as his Eucharistic Body. The Holy Scriptures have inflamed the cold and hardened heart, and the Eucharistic bread has removed the lack of knowledge.
D. The Return from Emmaus to Jerusalem (24:33-35). The two disciples urged Jesus to stay with them, for evening had fallen and the day had already come to its end. But when they recognized him, they immediately returned to Jerusalem, to the Community. This is how the sacred Eucharist unites the dispersed community. Their eager return late at night indicates that the ecclesial community is more important than distance and duration of time: it guarantees the deposit of faith and the power of communion.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
Today’s Gospel text helps us in our failures, our weakness, and aids us also to identify the message of the Resurrection for our sufferings. What helps us in this experience is the value we give, in our lives, to the Word of God and the Holy Sacrament of the altar. Jesus’ behaviour, as we encounter it in this text, teaches us the art of loving others, wherever they are, and in whatever situations they may be. We are asked to be aware of the sufferings and expectations of our neighbours, to listen to them instead of preaching at them. And if we wonder where to find Jesus in the world today, and what the opportunities of meeting him are, the answer would be: first, in reading and listening to the Scriptures, which sanctify us, if we listen with careful attention; second, through the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist which nourishes our souls, for as the body needs food, so also the soul; we consider Confession and Communion after Baptism to be important also; third, through the ecclesial community. The return of the two disciples to the community of the Apostles, who were in Jerusalem, is a clear indication that holiness is growing at the heart of the community and in the love of others.