It’s one of the most playful and serious encounters Jesus had in the Gospels. Cleopas and another of the Lord’s disciples were heading the wrong way out of Jerusalem along the Emmaus Road, having been told with a great jubilance that He had Risen. They found that hard to believe.
Downcast as they discussed what they had heard, Jesus showed up and played with them a bit. He asked, “What are you discussing as you walk along?”
Their eyes were prevented from recognizing him, so they responded to the Risen King with this great line, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” I’m sure Jesus smiled when he asked, “What sort of things?”
It’s wonderful how he patiently listened to the details they provided, enjoying I’m sure their admission of astonishment after the women who first saw the empty tomb told them they had seen angels there who said Jesus was alive, adding, “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.” (Luke 24:17-25)
Once the fun was over Jesus landed a rebuke: “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!”
Two things they told Jesus prompted His rebuke, first their hope that Jesus would be the one to “redeem Israel” and the other, “Jesus the Nazarene was a prophet mighty in deed and word…” With the first, they failed to see Jesus as the Son of God, the One destined to die and rise for the salvation of Israel in a way far beyond a political intervention and show of might. The second displays how they hadn’t really been pierced to the core, repentant for their sins. His works simply impressed them enough to inspire them to follow him.
Mary Magdalene, in contrast, doesn’t see Jesus as a prophet, nor is she concerned about Isreal. Her sorrow is inconsolable. She doesn’t recognize Jesus at first either, yet when the Lord calls her name, she bathes him with her tears showing her total love for him as her Redeemer and Lord who had poured His healing waters of mercy over her. She clings to him.
Jesus doesn’t rebuke the two for not believing the women’s testimony, rather for not believing “all that the prophets spoke.” Consequently, Jesus gives them a Scripture lesson starting with Moses, highlighting every passage that refers to Him. Wow, no Thomas Aquinas there, straight from the Master.
Deeply moved, yet still not aware of who this traveller is, they beg him to stay for a meal. With them at the table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and fed them. “With that, their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:31)
The two disciples had just celebrated the first Mass with Jesus the High priest presiding. They heard readings from the Old Testament on the way to Emmaus, complete with a homily on the Scriptures, then Jesus consecrated the bread, feeding them with the Eucharist which opened their eyes, allowing them to see clearly it was the risen Lord in the breaking of bread.
Jesus saw these men, their loss of hope and belief leading them the wrong way. He hurried to meet them in their discouragement to open their eyes.
Like these men, we as well can find ourselves travelling in the wrong direction tempted to discouragement, especially when we are burdened by daily cares and worries, or find ourselves helpless in crushing misfortune such as a chronic illness, the death of a child, or the agony of being abandoned. Our gaze on Jesus can be clouded by the Father of lies tempting us to think that Jesus doesn’t care.
For the Jubillee 2000 Pope St. John Paul II chose Vietnamese Archbishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan to lead a retreat for the Roman Curia. In that retreat, the Archbishop shared his experience of arrest and imprisonment by the Vietnamese government in 1975 for thirteen years, nine of them in solitary confinement.
“I was so tormented by the thought of being forced to abandon my diocese…I experienced a kind of revolt in my whole being.”
In the book, Testimony of Hope, Cardinal Van Thuan tells how Jesus came into that place of revolt to transform his anguished heart. Through a profound encounter with the One for whom he had already left everything, Van Thuan emerged to begin his work for Christ in a new way, yet remaining a prisoner.
Pope St. John Paul II said of Archbishop Van Thuan:
“A witness of the cross…he has frequently recounted the realities and episodes from his sufferings in prison, thus reinforcing us in the consoling certainty that when everything crumbles around us, and perhaps even within us, Christ remains our unfailing support.”
Yes, Christ, the Divine traveller comes to us on our Emmaus Road. We may not recognize Him at first, but he does come if we have not given up on him. Through prayer mingled with tears, he will arrive on the threshold of our opening heart. He will do what he does best, console us and strengthen our resistance to discouragement. He makes us see that it is He who comes, that it is He alone who heals, and he will send us as witnesses to his saving love.
Through prayer, especially to Him in the Holy Eucharist, we will have our eyes opened. We will experience the joy of his presence knowing that whenever he shows up everything is okay.
Everything around us may be falling apart, but everything falling apart within us becomes serene because we have allowed him to take possession of our hearts. We too will know our Risen Saviour who is all we need. He will send us out to be joyful witnesses to his Resurrection, for the greatest contribution we can make in our lives, Pope St. John Paul II told us, is “to communicate Christ to the world.”