The Road to Emmaus

The story of the two disciples of Emmaus is among the most loved stories of the gospel for many reasons. A true literary gem, the account is artfully crafted replete with charm, warmth, humor and even gentle irony. Some authors consider it a masterpiece within a masterpiece for the entire chapter 24 of Luke is itself a masterpiece. Above all, what makes the story extraordinary is that it illustrates what Christian life is all about and articulates the elements of discipleship.

Discipleship is following Jesus all the way to Jerusalem. In Luke’s gospel everything moves towards Jerusalem. “Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Lk 9:51) Jerusalem is where Jesus will accomplish his Father’s mission through his passion, death and resurrection. In Jerusalem, he will to his send the Holy Spirit, promised by the Father, and from there the apostles will start their mission of proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Our gospel story opens with the scene of the two disciples leaving Jerusalem. They have followed Jesus and put their hope in him as “the one to redeem Israel.” Their expectations however have turned into disillusionment and frustration when their chief priests and rulers handed Jesus over to be crucified. Three days have passed since his death, and there are stories going around that he has risen; but no one has seen him.

The two disciples then leave Jerusalem and head for Emmaus, a village 11 kilometers away from the holy city. Their hopes have been dashed, and they have had enough. They give up on their dreams of seeing a free Israel and the promise of a new kingdom. Leaving Jerusalem, they leave the way of discipleship. They give up on Jesus.

But Jesus never gives up on us. He walks with us even when we take the wrong way. Just as Jesus accompanies the two disciples even as they walk away from the city of Light and descend into the approaching night. He meets us where we are and as we are. In the same way that he meets the weeping Magdalene in her tears, the hiding apostles in their fears, and the cynical Thomas in his doubts.

Now, he meets the two disciples in their bitterness and pain. He allows them to pour out their frustration and resentment. He does not interrupt. Only after having listened, does he speak. Upon hearing his word, they are led from darkness to light, from sorrow to joy, from discouragement to renewed enthusiasm. “Were not our hearts burning within us, as he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Pope Benedict has an interesting comment regarding the fact that the locality of Emmaus has not been identified with clarity even now. There are several opinions as to its exact location. This ambiguity allows us to make Emmaus a representation of every place. Emmaus is the road each of us takes. True, it can lead us away from Jerusalem. But it is also the road where Jesus meets us and accompanies us back to Jerusalem.

What did Jesus do to make the two disciples turn around and return to Jerusalem? He opened the Scriptures to them and broke bread with them.

This marvelous story of Emmaus is an excellent catechesis on the Holy Mass. In the first part of the Mass, the Lord gives us his word to shed light on what is happening in our life. Our crises and failures, our feelings of being abandoned and betrayed begin to make sense under the lens of the word of God.

In the second part, Jesus breaks bread with us and reveals his presence in our life. Nourished by the two-fold table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ, we regain the strength and the joy to follow Christ and to take on the mission once again. As the two disciples returned to Jerusalem to recount their experience of the risen Lord, we too are sent from our Eucharistic gathering to share our story with others.

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