On the Walk to Emmaus
(Acts 2:14, 22-33; 1Pet.1:17-21; Lk.24:13-35)
We don’t always recognise Jesus when he’s with us, do we? Mary Magdalene is the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection, but she doesn’t recognise him. She thinks he’s a gardener.
The two disciples in Luke’s Gospel today don’t recognise Jesus, either. One of them is Cleopas. We’re not given the other person’s name, but tradition tells us that it’s Cleopas’ son, Simeon, who became the second bishop of Jerusalem.
These two disciples have left Jerusalem, and they’re walking to Emmaus, a small town about 11 kms away. It’s perhaps a 3-hour walk in hilly country.
They are quite upset. They had hoped that Jesus was their Messiah, the great warrior who would save them from their miserable lives. But now he’s dead and they’re totally confused. They don’t know what to do with themselves.
As they trudge along, a mysterious stranger joins them. He listens to them and asks them questions. But, like Mary Magdalene, they don’t recognise it’s Jesus.
Now, there are some important points to note about this well-loved story:
Firstly, it’s significant that the first people Jesus chooses to visit after his resurrection are ordinary. They’re not the rich and powerful and famous. They’re not even his own apostles.
Instead, Jesus chooses to see ordinary people like Mary Magdalene and these two disciples before anyone else. This is significant, because Jesus is telling us that ordinary people are his first priority.
The second point concerns the way Jesus presents himself. He doesn’t want us to think he’s high and mighty and remote. Rather, he wants us to know that he’s always friendly and approachable, and even ordinary, like a gardener or a travelling pilgrim. And he wants to meet us wherever we are, as we are.
And of course, none of these people recognise Jesus at first. Isn’t that just like us? How often do we fail to notice Jesus’ presence in our own lives?
So how do these two disciples come to recognise Jesus?
It’s by opening their hearts to him, listening to him, and sharing a meal with him.
Did you notice? When they sit down to eat at Emmaus, Jesus repeats what he did at the Last Supper in Jerusalem (Lk.22:14-20). He takes the bread, he blesses it, he breaks it, and then he gives it to them to eat. And immediately their eyes are opened.
This is exactly what the Church has been doing in the Holy Eucharist for the last 2,000 years. First, we open ourselves up to receive Jesus. Then he speaks to our hearts in the Scriptures. Then, in the person of the priest, he blesses and breaks the bread and he shares it with us.
If we want to find Jesus, then we, too, must open our hearts and actively listen and learn by participating in the Holy Eucharist.
Now, it’s important to note that when the disciples do discover Jesus, they don’t keep it secret. They run back to Jerusalem to tell everyone else. That’s exactly what Jesus wants us to do. We are his disciples today; when we discover Jesus, we shouldn’t keep it secret. He wants us to share the good news with others, so that they might find him, too.
And finally, by appearing as a stranger, Jesus is encouraging us to be welcoming to strangers, too. For it’s through such people that we will discover him.
In Benedictine spirituality, great emphasis is placed on welcoming the stranger. Why? It’s because the stranger may well be Jesus himself. Remember what Jesus says in Matthew 25:35: ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in’.
Dorothy Day once wrote: ‘A custom existed among the first generations of Christians, when faith was a bright fire that warmed more than those who kept it burning. In every house then a room was kept ready for any stranger who might ask for shelter; it was even called “the stranger’s room”. Not because these people thought they could trace something of someone they loved in the stranger who used it, not because the man or woman to whom they gave shelter reminded them of Christ, but because – plain and simple and stupendous fact – he or she was Christ’. [i]
The Emmaus story is rich with important messages for us. How often does Jesus enter our lives but we really don’t notice?
This might be a good time to go for a quiet walk with him.