Those two disciples who returned from Emmaus had seen — and learned — a lot.
interpreted by Deborah
The same day that the women found the tomb empty, two of Jesus’ disciples headed to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked along, they debated what had happened.
They were so involved in their discussion that when Jesus joined them, they didn’t recognize him.
“What are you talking about that’s so absorbing?” he asked. That stopped them in their tracks.
“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have been going on there over the past week?” the one named Cleopas asked.
“What things?” he asked.
They both started talking at once: “About Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet sent from God!” “He was a powerful healer who stirred up a lot of people.” “Our priests handed him over to the Romans.” “It was one of his own followers who betrayed him.” “We had hoped that he would restore our people.”
“It’s been three days since it all went down.” Cleopas went on, “And now, to top it off, some of the women in our group are saying crazy things.”
“They went to the tomb at the crack of dawn,” the other continued, “And when his body wasn’t there, they came back insisting that they’d seen a vision of angels who told them that he was alive.”
“Some others went to the tomb and found it empty, too,” Cleopas added, “Just as the women said it was.”
“But they didn’t see him.” the other disciple sighed.
“What a clueless lot you are!” Jesus laughed, “as slow as snails to pick up on what is right before your eyes! Don’t you realize that the Messiah had to endure these things in order to come into the fullness of his power?”
Then, starting with the Pentateuch through the prophets, he interpreted all the things that the Scriptures revealed about himself.
As they approached the town, he walked ahead as if to pass by. But they insisted that he join them, “Stay with us; it’s getting dark and the day will soon be over.” So he went in to stay with them.When he sat down with them for supper, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
It was then that they were able to recognize him; but he vanished from their sight.
They both agreed: “We must have been blind!” Why didn’t we see it right away?” “Of course! We were alight with hope while he spoke to us on the road, when he was interpreting the Scriptures to us.”
Within the hour they were heading back to Jerusalem. When they got there the other disciples told them, “It’s really true: the Lord has risen, and he has appeared to Simon!”
Then these two shared their story of what happened on the road, and how his presence had been revealed to them in the shared meal.
What the heck was wrong with those disciples? How could they fail to recognize Jesus when he was walking along right beside them?
Were they blind?
Or was it just a dream — or hallucination? After all, once they realized it was Jesus sitting there at the dinner table with them, he disappeared! Maybe he was never really there.
Or maybe there is a whole lot more to the story. Maybe it’s a bigger message than Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead. (Yes, bigger than that.) Maybe it is a lesson about how it is that we, his followers, can learn to recognize the Lord. And how we fail to see him, even when he is in our midst.
We are introduced to these two as they are walking away from Jerusalem. They hadn’t been among the Lord’s closest companions (“the twelve” — now down to eleven), but were faithful to the extent that the author describes them as “disciples.” They had believed in Jesus’ message, had followed him — literally: attending his sermons, witnessing his work among the people, supporting his ministry by their presence, and perhaps with their money. They had had great hopes for this “powerful, God-sent prophet,” even imagining that he would restore the Jewish nation; freeing it from Roman domination.
Now they were leaving all of that behind.
It can’t have been a very pleasant walk.
Disappointed, frustrated, confused — and probably frightened that they might be rounded up as followers of “that Jesus” — they were heading home. Trudging along the path that had once seemed so bright and filled with promise, they argued about what had happened.
The text tells us the two “debated” the issue, but I wonder if that’s not a kindly gloss. It’s probable that the discussion was energetic, possibly heated; maybe tinged with acrimony and accusations: “This was all your idea.” “I knew that guy would lead to trouble.” “There’s a week of my life I’ll never get back.” “Now what are we going to do?” “We should have stayed in Jerusalem.” “And gotten killed?” “Maybe the women were right — maybe he’s not really dead.” “Are you crazy?!”
So away they went, squabbling and blaming and calculating their losses. They were so involved in their argument that they failed to see that Jesus was right there with them. And yet something happened; something changed in the way they spoke and in the words they said.
In the middle of their heated discussion, Jesus intervenes, “What happened to get you two so wound up?” That simple question stopped them in their tracks.
It was a moment of silent awakening. It brought a stillness, a shelter from the storm of noise and worry.
And then they started to talk about what they had experienced: they described the glorious beginnings, the dreams, the desires, the betrayals, the horror, the disappointment, the seeming madness of those who remained. They spoke to the Lord from their hearts: the truth, unadorned. They made no claim to be faithful, or trusting. For them, it was as if all hope was gone.
Then, in the voice of a stranger, Jesus taught them to understand his mission and ministry in the light of the holy Scriptures. He was not the militant messiah whose armies would overthrow the Roman legions, but the Shepherd whose flocks would overcome hatred and violence with love. His words must have dazzled them; to speak of compassion instead of vengeance, to call for peace rather than declaring war after all that they had endured, sounded impossible, improbable, unlikely in the extreme.
And yet the idea of a reign of kindness and cooperation was so comforting, such a relief from the anger and resentment that had been boiling up in their hearts; seething and toxic, spilling over into their dealings with one another — poisoning their friendship and their souls. The very notion was a balm to their spirits: restoring hope and courage; inspiring a new kind of belief.
Before long they reached the village; the two who had been at odds had been silent: listening, learning, reflecting. The stranger started to walk on ahead, as if to follow a different path, but the disciples called out — as if with a single voice, “Stay! Stay with us! It is nearly dark; come and share a meal with us.”
Was it then? Was it then that they began to discern the first traces of the Lord — as they offered hospitality to a stranger? In the gathering shadows did Cleopas do a double-take, thinking, for an instant, that the man looked somehow familiar?
From that point on there was no further “discussion” between the two disciples, no argument or blame or fearful plotting; they simply went to work, side by side, preparing a meal for their visitor. Perhaps one went into the garden to pick some vegetables, the other built a fire, a cup of wine was offered to their guest, the table was set with some unleavened bread — for there had been no time to bake.
Then they sat down together to share a meal. Simple food, unremarkable surroundings, no servants or silver; just the two — and their guest, whom they had welcomed with open hearts.
He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave some to each of them.
As in that first meeting on the road, the disciples were stopped in their tracks: struck, silent and amazed. They saw, suddenly and with blazing clarity, the Lord Christ revealed in his glory. He was not dead, but alive — present, powerful and life-transforming: the Voice that counseled kindness, the Stranger, the Friend, the Teacher, the Restorer of Hope, Eternal Compassion, Undying Love.
And they had recognized him “in the breaking of the bread.”
But then, in that same instant, “the Lord vanished from their sight.” Yet his sudden disappearance did not affect the disciples; they didn’t freak out or search for him under the table or in another room. They didn’t spend any time looking for his body. They recognized that what they had seen was the Reality that transcends mere appearances.
What these two had seen was what truly matters: Christ with us and within us; in how we act, in what we say, what we do, what we hope for, pray for, and believe in. The disciples immediately began to say to one another, “Of course! That’s it! We should have seen Him all along!”
They had recognized Christ in the gift of hospitality — not only to their guest — but to each other. They saw the Lord not in squabbling or self-righteousness, but in gratitude and prayer. He could be found by reflecting on the Scriptures, and in remembering His words. And acting accordingly.
We do not come to know the Lord or see him in our world until we open our eyes — and our hearts — to his Way. When we are blinded by anger or fear or resentment, we won’t recognize Him even when he is standing right in front of us. Yet he is there, walking alongside us, every step of the way, hoping that we will invite him into our lives.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
What if, instead of “Love one another,” we understood Jesus’ teaching as: “Be kind to one another.” ?