Chapter 32: The Appearance of Jesus to the Disciples of Emmaus
The two disciples of Emmaus set out from Jerusalem. They were very disappointed that the “project for salvation” had ended in a shameful death on the cross. Jesus appeared to them, in their insecurity and doubt, on the evening of the day of his Resurrection, in order to explain to them the language of the Resurrection and to teach them how to grow in faith. We can understand what happened with them through what we live today in the liturgy of the Mass. In the first part, we hear readings from the Scriptures and an explanation of them; in the second part, we break the bread and partake of it in Holy Communion. The question remains: what is the greatest disappointment we have encountered in our lives? Have we discovered his presence in our lives, after he has walked with us, or do we still have to learn who he is? Where do we find Jesus Christ in the world of today, and what are the ways of encountering him? And finally, how does the Eucharist nourish our lives? These are the questions we will try to deal with in our meeting today.
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.
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: The Holy Mass
Christians have many rituals and many prayers, but the Mass remains the most important celebration. The Church meets on the day of the Lord to celebrate his Resurrection, and she considers, without hesitation, that every Sunday is a Solemnity and a Holy Day of Obligation. That is why the faithful come, with great joy, to attend Mass, believing and knowing that they are celebrating and encountering Jesus himself. The community, together with the priest, becomes a community of disciples gathered around the Lord Jesus. A Mass is not simply “another” Eucharist, because there was only one Mass, one Eucharist, that took place in history: The Last Supper. This unique Mass goes beyond time and place and is present wherever and whenever the faithful gather. Jesus and his disciples were together then and Jesus comes in the bread and wine every time believers meet for Mass. Thus, the celebrant is always Jesus, and the assembly is always that of the disciples.
In the Mass, there are two main parts; and this is true in all Churches. There are some differences, with different rites, language and music. But all churches agree that there are two parts of the celebration, just as in the account of Christ’s appearance to the two disciples of Emmaus: first, the celebration of the Word, then the celebration of the “breaking of bread”. Each part is preceded by introductory prayers and hymns, which we will not tackle in this catechism since they play no particular role in the essence of each part of Mass.
The Liturgy of the Word – the first part of Mass – reaches its high point, after several prayers, in listening to the Word of God in Scripture. On Sundays and Solemnities, three readings are proclaimed; during the week, there are two readings. The first reading is selected from among the different Books of the Old Testament or, during Eastertide, from the Acts of the Apostles; the second reading (for Sundays and Solemnities) is taken from the Letters of the New Testament or from the Book of Revelation; the third reading is a passage from the Gospel. This is followed by a homily by the priest, interpreting the word of God for us and explaining how best to apply that word of God in our daily life. The readings are not intended for rote learning or remembrance: they are a direct proclamation that Jesus is present during Mass and is speaking these words to us through the voice of the reader. Jesus is risen from the dead and his word is alive and not merely an echo of the past.
Jesus therefore speaks to us in the Mass, and in its second part he breaks the Bread as the celebrant utters the very same words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper. Indeed, Jesus gives thanks to God the Father for all His gifts, and then he breaks the bread and gives it to his disciples. Then the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit, whom the Lord has poured out upon his Church; it is he who makes the Holy Eucharist possible. He comes and at the same time he sanctifies both the offerings and the Church. In fact, the assembled community is like the offerings: both are the Body of Christ, each of them in their own way. That is why the faithful can approach to receive Holy Communion, knowing that they themselves have become a Holy Body. At the end of the Mass, after the thanksgiving prayer, the priest gives the blessing and the faithful leave full of joy and praise to God. They arrived at Mass with their material and spiritual offerings, and they leave, equipped with the “food for the journey”; the real blessing is, being with Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.
4- Reading and Meditation: A Reading from St Gregory the Great (c.540-604)
The disciples recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread
I must address a few words to you, even though you are in the midst of a weekday celebration. My words may even be more helpful, since often nourishment that is barely sufficient is more eagerly consumed. I have determined to examine the meaning of the Gospel reading summarily and not word by word, lest an overlong explanation be a burden upon your kindness.
You have heard, dearly beloved, that the Lord appeared to two disciples while they were walking on the road. They were talking about him, even though they did not believe. He did not show them an appearance which they could recognize, but the Lord behaved before the eyes of their bodies in accord with what was going on inwardly before the eyes of their hearts. Within themselves they were both loving and doubting; and the Lord was present to them outwardly, but did not show them who he was. He manifested his presence to them as they talked about him, but hid the appearance by which they would recognize him on account of their doubts.
He did indeed talk with them, reproving the hardness of their understanding and opening to them the mysteries of holy scripture concerning himself: and yet, because as an object of faith he was still a stranger to their hearts, he made a pretense of going on farther. One can make a pretence as one can make a pot. On this occasion the perfect Truth did nothing deceitful; he was only manifesting himself to them materially as they were thinking of him. It had to be shown whether those who did not as yet love him as God were at least able to love him as a stranger. Since those with whom Truth was walking couldn’t be alien to charity, they invited him, a stranger, to be their guest.
But why do I say they invited him, when it is written that they compelled him? We must surely infer from this example that strangers are not only to be invited to be guests but even forcibly persuaded. They set the table, brought food, and recognized in the breaking of the bread the God they did not know as he explained the sacred scriptures. They were not enlightened by hearing God’s commandments, but by their own actions, for it is written: It is not hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but doers of the law will be made righteous (Rom 2:13). Let anyone who wishes to understand what he has heard be quick to fulfill in action what he has already been able to understand. The Lord was not recognized when he was speaking, but he deigned to be recognized as he was being fed.
Dearly beloved, love hospitality, love the works of charity. It was said: Let the charity of the brotherhood remain, and do not forget hospitality; it was by this that some have been made acceptable, having entertained angels hospitably (Heb 13:1-2); and Peter told us to be hospitable towards one another, without complaint (1Pt 4:9); and Truth himself said: I needed hospitality, and you welcomed me. (Mt 25:35)
Here is an incident generally believed, handed down to us by the reports of our elders. A certain head of a family with his entire household zealously practised hospitality. Every day he received strangers at his table, and on a certain day a nameless stranger came among them and was brought to the table. As was his humble custom, the head of the family wished to pour water for his hands. He turned to get the pitcher, but suddenly he could not find the person on whose hands he had intended to pour the water. He wondered at what had happened; and on that same night the Lord said to him in a vision: “On other days you received me in my members; yesterday you received me in person.” You know that when he comes in judgement he will say, What you did to one of these, my least ones, you did for me (Mt 25:40). You know that before the judgement, when he is received in his members, he is himself searching for those who will receive him. And yet we are disinclined to offer the gift of hospitality.
Consider, my friends, how great the virtue of hospitality is. Receive Christ at your tables so that you can be received by him at the eternal banquet. Offer hospitality now to Christ the stranger, that at the judgment you may not be a stranger, unknown to him, but may be received into his kingdom as one of his own.34