Sunday of Week 3 of Easter – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 24:13-35

Today’s Gospel is one of the great passages of the New Testament. It encapsulates in a little over 20 verses the whole Christian life. It is Easter Sunday as the passage opens. In Luke all the resurrection appearances take place in the vicinity of Jerusalem and on Easter Sunday.

It begins with two disciples on the road leaving Jerusalem. For Luke the focal point of Jesus’ mission is Jerusalem – it was the goal to which all Jesus’ public life was headed and from there the new community would bring his Message to the rest of the world.

They are on their way to a place called Emmaus, about 7 miles (11 km) from Jerusalem, whose exact location is not now known. It does not really matter and that is the point. They were on the “road” – they are pilgrims on the road of life. Jesus is the Way, the Road. The problem is that at this moment the disciples are going in the wrong direction.

The Risen Jesus joins them as a fellow-traveller. “Something” prevents them from recognising him. What was that “something”? Was it their presumption that he was dead? Was it their preconceived idea of what Jesus should look like?

Seeing their obvious despondency and disillusionment, Jesus asks what they are talking about. With deliciously unconscious irony they say,

You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.

Jesus plays them out a little more with a totally innocent-sounding, “What things?” He wants to hear their version of what happened. To them the death was the failure of Jesus’ mission. They refer to him as a “prophet” as if, after the debacle of his death, they could not see in Jesus the Messiah they had earlier acknowledged.

We were hoping [Greek: hlpizomen, elpizomen; Latin: sperabamus] that he would be the one to set Israel free.

Again the delicious irony of their own words is lost on them. For them, freedom meant liberation from the tyranny of foreign domination and perhaps the inauguration of the Kingdom of God as they understood it.

They are puzzled also by the stories of the women describing an empty tomb and angels – but there is still no sign of Jesus. More irony! They are addressing these very words to Jesus!

Jesus then gives them a lesson in reading the Scriptures and shows them that all that happened to Jesus, including his sufferings and death, far from being a tragedy was all foreordained. Luke is the only writer to speak clearly of a suffering Messiah. The idea of a suffering Messiah is not found as such in the Old Testament. Later, the Church will see a foreshadowing of the suffering Messiah in the texts on the Suffering Servant in Isaiah.

This story emphasises all that happened to Jesus as the fulfilment of Old Testament promises and of Jewish hopes. All through Acts, Luke will argue that Christianity is the fulfilment of the hopes of Pharisaic Judaism and its logical development. In many respects, Matthew’s gospel has a similar theme.

As they reach their destination, Jesus makes as if to continue his journey. However, they extend their hospitality to the stranger.

I was a stranger and you took me in.

They say to Jesus, “it is nearly evening time and the day is almost over. So Jesus goes in to stay with them. Wonderful words. But it would not have happened if they had not opened their home to him.

As they sat down to the meal, Jesus, the visitor unexpectedly acting as host,

…took the bread, said the blessing over it, broke it and handed it to them.

And in that very act they recognised him. This is the Eucharist where we recognise the presence of Jesus among us in the breaking of bread. Not just in the bread, but in the breaking and sharing of the bread, and in those who share the broken bread.

Then Jesus disappears. But they are still basking in the afterglow.

Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?

In the light of all this experience, they turn around (conversion!) and go back along the road to Jerusalem from which they had been fleeing. There they discover their fellow-disciples excited that the Lord is risen and has appeared to Simon. And they tell their marvellous story and how

…they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.

All the ingredients of the Christian life are here:

  • Running away from where Christ is to be found. We do it all the time.
  • Meeting Jesus in the unexpected place or person or situation. How many times does this happen and we do not recognise him, or worse mistreat him?
  • Finding the real meaning and identity of Jesus and his mission in having the Scriptures fully explained. Without the Scriptures we cannot claim to know Jesus. Yet how many Catholics go through life hardly ever opening a bible?
  • Recognising Jesus in the breaking of bread, in our celebration of the Eucharist. The breaking and sharing of the bread indicates the community dimension of that celebration, making it a real ‘com-munion’ with all present.
  • The central experience of Scripture and Liturgy that draws us to participate in the work of proclaiming the message of Christ and sharing our experience of it with others that they may also share it.
  • The importance of hospitality and kindness to the stranger. “I was hungry… and you did/did not feed me…” Jesus is especially present and to be found and loved in the very least of our brothers and sisters.
  • Finally, the scene is also a model of the Eucharist. Those walking together on the Road gather together and meet Jesus, first, in the Liturgy of the Word as the Scriptures are broken open and explained. And second, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. What Jesus did for us through his suffering, death and resurrection is remembered with thanksgiving. The bread that is now his Body and the wine that is now his Blood, is shared among those who are the Members of that Body to strengthen their union and their commitment to continuing the work of Jesus.

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