On the Road to Emmaus
3rd Sunday of Easter Year A
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 24: 13 — 35
This reading (found only in St Luke’s Gospel account) is of particular importance to those who try to meditate frequently on the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures. In short it is one of the foundation passages upon which we build our approach to Lectio Divina — meditation and communion with Christ the Word, in our spiritual reading of the Holy Gospels and other Sacred Scriptures.
To help us appreciate the great depths and significance of this unique passage from St Luke, we will draw on the wisdom of writers from the 5th and 6th Centuries, as well as from the beginning, middle, and end of the 20th Century: two epochs which both saw the disintegration of law and order and what appeared to be the end of civilisation and respect for heritage and culture, as we have known them.
The Benedictine monks of St Andrew’s Abbey in Belgium, commenting on
our text ask: “Which of us has not, at least once, walked the road to Emmaus,
full of uncertainty about Jesus; full of disappointed hopes for his Church?
Again today, perhaps we are tempted to lose heart.
We are undergoing the shock of the passing away in our society of a certain
kind of thinking about God; Christ is, to all appearances, defeated; the
Church and its liturgy (forms of worship) seem irrelevant to the unbelieving
masses of people fascinated by latter-day idols.”
(See Appendix 1, Item 1, to read the rest of this statement.)
If you experience this sort of disquiet at times, you do so in good company. A little further on, we will read short portions of writing from two authors of the 5th and 6th centuries who faced unprecedented chaos in every direction as the Roman Empire began to crumble all around them. The horror of being under siege by those who only wanted to destroy every evidence of Christian order and values, led these great Christian leaders to build their teaching on the Rock of Christ and never deviate from it. That teaching continues to help us as we seek to understand the Gospels and their ever-fresh relevance in our times. Both of these great Christian orators and writers help us to understand this passage, and to let it warm our hearts.
Some Reflections On the Text
Prologue: Setting the Scene
Verses 13 and 14
Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles
from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.
It is still the day of the Resurrection, the first day of the week. The two men had been disciples of Jesus, but after witnessing his execution they were utterly disillusioned and, having abandoned their former pursuit, were heading off to make a new start.
As they walked along the road to Emmaus, they talked about the stream of events which had occurred, as far as they understood. We know one was called Cleopas; interestingly the author leaves the other unnamed. The scene is one of doom and gloom. They cannot believe that they are in this situation after their rabbi had filled them with such hope and expectations. They are completely unaware that something is about to happen which will change their whole lives.
Verses 15 and 16
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
While the two were deeply involved in analysing events and exchanging views, Jesus came up and walked alongside them. They were kept from recognising him, and so just carried on talking, undisturbed by the stranger’s presence.
St Luke has us all feeling very sorry for these two men. They were so enthusiastic and loyal to Jesus, at some personal risk to themselves. But suddenly it all seemed to go wrong — we cannot blame them for giving up, as we suspect deep down, we may well have done just the same.
A Note For Teachers
We should note at this point (with the help of Eugene LaVerdiere) that what follows is an exceptionally well crafted unit of writing. There are two sub-units:
Part 1. verses 17 — 27, a dialogue narrative which takes
place while they are en route out of town, and;
Part 2. verses 28 — 32, a meal narrative located at Emmaus.
This structure is very important to recognise. By the time this Gospel account was written, the early Christian assembly for the breaking of the bread included two distinct yet inter-related elements: first, a discussion arising out of the oral passing on of Jesus’ teaching which naturally included reference to what we all the Old Testament, and then secondly, a meal.
The two sub-units in this passage reflect a similar structure and this is the writer’s device to draw a parallel. We will explore this later.
Part 1. The Dialogue Narrative
Verses 17 — 19a
He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?”
They stopped, looking downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the
only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that
have taken place there in these days?”
And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to
him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who
was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all
As the text tells us when Jesus asks the two men: “What are you discussing as you walk along together?” they stop in their tracks and show very openly on their faces, how downhearted they feel. Cleopas comments: “You must be the only person who was in Jerusalem and has no idea of what was going on!” To this our Lord replies, “What are you talking about?” “About Jesus of Nazareth — that’s what!” They cannot believe that this stranger is so “not-with-it.”
Verses 19b — 24
And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him,
“The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a
prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,
how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a
sentence of death and crucified him.
But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;
and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.
Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they
were at the tomb early in the morning
and did not find his body; they came back and reported that
they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that
he was alive.
Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things
just as the women had described, but him they did not see.”
The two men then, finding a sympathetic enquirer, spell out what has so upset them:
• This rabbi we admired so much was a prophet, powerful in word and
deed (teaching and healing).
• So why would the chief priests and rulers hand Him over to be sentenced
to death — even worse, why was He crucified for crimes He didn’t commit?
• We were certain He was the Messiah who would lead Israel out of
subjection to pagan rulers!
• Our women went to His tomb to complete the proper protocol with His
body which had to be postponed due to the onset of Sabbath. But when
they arrived there was no body to clean.
• These women said angels told them He was alive but some of our
companions ran to look for themselves and they also couldn’t find Him.
We do indeed feel for these men.
The Church of the first few centuries looked back over events like this and concluded that when Christians have difficulties with faith, it is not Christ who is dead but his disciples! (See St Augustine’s comment, Appendix 1, Item 2)
And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of
heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!
Our Lord clearly loves them for their honesty and what amounts to broken hearts. They have been chosen for a very special mission and they will draw on their experience of emptiness, feelings of abandonment, and what follows, throughout the rest of their lives.
Most translations show Jesus now calling them “foolish”. If we are not fluent in New Testament Greek we need to know that “foolish” in this context means “wanting in thought, understanding, and consideration.” It does not imply any contempt. On the contrary, he discerns their purity of heart and proceeds to give them spiritual perception; one of the greatest gifts soon to become the role of the Holy Spirit to dispense. Our Lord is gently chastising them for not reflecting adequately on the Scriptures. So here, “foolish” in fact means something like — “You need to take another look at what happened. You’ve overlooked a few things”.
There is, we should note, an implied warning. It is dangerous to pick and choose in Sacred Scripture what you want to take notice of while ignoring the rest. The leading Pharisees did it, as do many Christians today.
Jesus implies, “How slow of heart you are that you do not believe ALL that
the prophets hove spoken”.
Verses 26 and 27
Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things
and enter into his glory?”
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted
to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.
Then comes the enigmatic statement that is still difficult for
modern people to take in: “Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer
these things before entering glory?”
Our Lord then begins to walk His two disciples through the Scriptures they love but have never understood. He begins with Moses, that is, the five books of Moses, and proceeds to “all the Prophets,” meaning basicly the rest of the Old Testament. He “interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the scriptures.” (See Appendix 1, Item 3 for the traditional list of Messianic passages in the Old Testament.)
This closes the dialogue on the Scriptures which was conducted like a mobile Synagogue service, a celebration of the living word, the essence of which in fact carried over into the first part of traditional Christian worship. (Called variously the Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, Mass, Holy Communion, etc).
Part 2 The Meal Narrative
Verses 28 and 29
As they approached the village to which they were going, he
gave the impression that he was going on farther.
But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening
and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
We now move into the meal narrative, and we draw substantially from “Luke” by Eugene LaVerdiere, (Veritas Publications, Dublin 1980 — a text we highly recommend for your purchasing). See Appendix 2 for a sample of this impressive work, which underpins these notes.
As the three approached Emmaus it was starting to get dark and Jesus made out to carry on travelling. The other two insisted He stay with them which He did.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took
bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.
Inside, the two hosts set the table for their guest to have a meal. When they were ready to commence something unusual occurred. Jesus took over as host. It was He who led the blessing, and St Luke records it using the typical formula of Jesus:
• He took bread
• gave thanks
• broke it, and
• gave some to each.
St Luke, in this way, evokes the Last Supper of Jesus (See Luke 22: 19a.) Thus the infant Church recognised, as it looked back over other times when Jesus fed people, the special relationship between these events and the Last Supper to which they pointed.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he
vanished from their sight.
This was enough for the eyes of the two men to be opened, and for them to recognise Him. The moment they did so, He disappeared, from sight. In time they came to understand that, in fact, He did not disappear at all, but was even closer to them than ever before.
Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning
(within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the
scriptures to us?”
Only now do they realise:
“Were not out hearts burning within us while He spoke to us on the way, and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Part of the essential teaching St. Luke has for us is that even when the Sacred Word of Scripture was broken open for them by Christ the Word himself, they did not comprehend. (See Appendix 1, Item 4). Even the Word Himself chose not to convince by the Word. Only at the breaking of the bread did Jesus allow them to realise who He really was, and reach a full understanding of what He had taught them. Would that all who call themselves Christian were willing to explore the depth and meaning of this amazing incident, and learn from one another how we should conduct ourselves in the Presence of the Divine Master.
Verse 33 — 35
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them
who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”
Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Immediately they set out for Jerusalem which they had just left. They are back on track, they are new men. Upon arrival they describe in detail to the Apostles what had taken place. In particular they convey how they had a personal grooming in the Messianic references in Scripture, by the Messiah Himself, which only bore fruit when they joined Him at table for the breaking of the bread; for only then did Scripture illuminate the presence of Christ.
There is no parallel to this stunning incident in our four and a half millennia history. It is breathtaking and bursting with powerful, spiritual truths. These broken men are healed when their Rabbi breaks a piece of bread before their eyes. He draws them into the ceremonial commemoration of His own Passover, and instantly all that He taught them becomes activated, vibrant and energising.
In thoroughly Biblical tradition, they set out and return straight away, with alacrity, to Jerusalem, and place themselves at God’s disposal.
Frequent meditation on our Lord’s teaching, and carrying out the lessons He has passed down to us, will lead our hearts to burn within us, and to experience His gift of New Life. May it be so with each of us.
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1. In the introduction we talked about the difficulties most of us seem to have today in holding to the Christian Faith when the Western World has abandoned it. We find it hard to recognise Christ in an atheistic, in fact, often anti-theistic culture.
St. Luke wrote his account for a community faced with a similar predicament. Eugene LaVerdiere draws out the lesson St. Luke is making:
“Those who open their table to the Stranger and share their possessions and who take on the self-giving attitude of Jesus, recognise the risen Lord, and are re-established in hope. Such is Luke’s message to those who suffer persecution and can no longer recognise the risen Lord as they have done in the past.”
2. St Gregory the Great (AD 540 — 604) in one of his Sunday Sermons made the point that in this journey to Emmaus, Jesus “accommodated himself to the eyes of their hearts.” This was a vital learning moment for the whole Church. If we are despondent at the failure of our Lord to bring about the great plans we had for Him then He will often allow us to walk in mediocrity. He is quite demanding that we abandon our natural inclination to dream up great schemes for Him to endorse, and instead apply ourselves to beholding His vision, to listening to His directions and following them, in biblical language, with alacrity. This is in fact a working definition of our approach to meditation which is both a listening-to-behold, and a listening-to-do, and yes, “with alacrity“. This is the well-spring of true evangelisation.
St Gregory brings out this point very emphatically. We therefore close our Reflection with a passage from this great son of a senior Roman Senator who led the Church through most turbulent times of social, military and political collapse.
St Gregory the Great: Road to Emmaus
(Translated from Latin)
You have heard, dear brethren, how the Lord appeared on the road to Emmaus to two disciples who were talking about Him. Although they did not believe in Him, Jesus drew near and accompanied them, but in a manner in which they could not recognise Him. Externally and to their bodily eyes He accommodated Himself to the eyes of their hearts. The two disciples loved Him in a fashion; nevertheless, they hesitated to accept Him into their hearts. Therefore the Lord showed Himself externally present, yet would not reveal His identity. Because they spoke of Him, He came and accompanied them; because they doubted, He concealed from them the form by which they could have recognised Him.
True, He spoke with them chided them for their dullness of perception, and unlocked for them the mysteries of Sacred Writing that referred to Him; yet He pretended that He wished to continue the journey because He was still excluded from their hearts. (The Latin word for pretend, “fingere,” is also used with the meaning to fashion, hence we call a potter, one who fashions clay, a figulus.) By acting in this way, therefore, divine Truth, who knows no deceit, was not guilty of duplicity. For the Lord fashioned His body to appear to the disciples, exactly as they imagined Him in their hearts. It was necessary that they prove their love for Him at least as a stranger, even though they did not as yet love Him as God.
But since those with whom Truth is present cannot be far from charity, they invited Jesus to become their guest, even though He was still a stranger. Now why did I say they invited Him, when the text says, “They constrained Him”? Because from their example we ought to learn that strangers should not only be invited to share our lodgings, but must be urged to do so. They prepared the table and brought food; then at the breaking of bread they recognized God whom they did not recognize when the Sacred Scriptures were being explained. Observe that they were enlightened not by hearing the commands of God but in performing them. Do we not read in holy Scripture, “It is not they who hear the Law that are just in the sight of God; but it is they who follow the Law that will be justified”? If, then, one wishes to understand what he has heard, let him hasten to put into action that which he has already grasped. Note that the Lord was not recognised when He was speaking, but He did manifest Himself while He was being served.
Additional Reading (Appendix 1 and Appendix 2)
Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so, remain
On the Road to Emmaus
3rd Sunday of Easter Year A St. Luke 24: 13 — 35
We may experience profound sorrow, even a touch of anxiety, as the
1. Our response will require a conscious nurturing of a strong personal commitment to our
2. As our society changes, ever more rapidly, we need to strengthen our participation in
The writer of these Reflections, a member of the Hebrew Catholic fellowship, first learnt
We offer an approach to setting aside part of our home as a place of prayer, meditation
3. Secularism, de-Christianisation and persecution do not permit time for doom and gloom.
Meanwhile let us encourage one another to persevere until that day dawns.
Let us pray for one another to stand steadfastly in position — to hold our ground and keep our Faith alive with constant refreshment from the Sacred Scriptures and the Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding our Sacred History.
Luke 24: 13 — 35
3rd Sunday After Easter Year A
13 5 6 Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles
14 and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.
15 And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus
16 7 but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They
18 One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only
19 And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The
20 how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of
21 But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and
22 Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were
23 and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had
24 Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as
25 And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to
26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer 8 these things and
27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the
29 But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost
30 And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread,
31 With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he
32 Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning (within us)
33 So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found
34 who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to
35 Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he
5 [13-35] This episode focuses on the interpretation of scripture by the risen Jesus and the recognition of him in the breaking of the bread. The references to the quotations of scripture and explanation of it (⇒ Luke 24:25-27), the kerygmatic proclamation (⇒ Luke 24:34), and the liturgical gesture (⇒ Luke 24:30) suggest that the episode is primarily catechetical and liturgical rather than apologetic.
6  Seven miles: literally, “sixty stades.” A stade was 607 feet. Some manuscripts read “160 stades” or more than eighteen miles. The exact location of Emmaus is disputed.
8  That the Messiah should suffer . . . : Luke is the only New Testament writer to speak explicitly of a suffering Messiah (⇒ Luke 24:26, ⇒ 46; ⇒ Acts 3:18; ⇒ 17:3; ⇒ 26:23). The idea of a suffering Messiah is not found in the Old Testament or in other Jewish literature prior to the New Testament period, although the idea is hinted at in ⇒ Mark 8:31-33. See the notes on ⇒ Matthew 26:63 and ⇒ 26:67-68.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,