In this famous Gospel, 2 disciples are walking away to a town called Emmaus, about 7 miles from Jerusalem. On the way they meet, they have a conversation with Jesus, and as they were listening to Jesus their hearts burn within them. Wouldn’t you like to have that same encounter? Good news is we can, and God desires us to. However, let’s be practical…walking 7 miles must have taken over 2 hours, sooo- we must be ready to invest our time also. I don’t mind- do you mind staying for 2 hours? Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us have the same kind of encounter with Jesus in the time that we have.
These 2 disciples, one we are told is named Cleopas, are walking away from Jerusalem on Easter Sunday. Interestingly, the Gospel of John tells us that Cleopas is actually Jesus’ uncle- the father of Mary’s sister who also was at the Cross- so Jesus and Cleopas are actually relatives. Cleopas and his traveling companion are leaving Jerusalem on the very day Jesus rose from the dead; disheartened and downcast they discussed how Jesus was arrested and crucified. Can you imagine how disheartened and downcast Jesus must have been, knowing his uncle and the other disciple didn’t believe in his resurrection?
Jesus meets them on the road and initiates a conversation with them- however the Scripture says that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him”. Some people think that perhaps these disciples forgot what Jesus looked like, or that the risen Jesus looked different- but both of those are very unlikely- as all the other disciples immediately recognized the risen Jesus. And so it is important for us to ponder that for some reason Jesus veiled his identity, He prohibits them from recognizing Him at first appearance. This is very interesting, by the end of this homily you should have a fuller understanding why Jesus does this.
Playing ignorant to begin the conversation with the two men, Jesus asks “what things, tell me about them.” And Cleopas goes on to say “well concerning Jesus of Nazareth” —observe the words he uses — he doesn't say concerning Jesus, the Messiah, or concerning Jesus, the son of God, or concerning Jesus, the one who is to come; he says concerning “Jesus, a prophet mighty in deed and word.” Notice what has happened to Cleopas’ faith. He's lost it, or at least he's reduced it to believing that Jesus was just a prophet, a mighty man sent from God performing signs and wonders, but not the Messiah. Why? Because he goes on to say “we had hoped [past tense] had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel, but now it's the third day since he was put to death.” In other words, to him there's no hope of Jesus saving them anymore. Cleopas goes on to say: “Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not ﬁnd his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.” Notice that Cleopas also brings up the fact of the empty tomb. He is leaving Jerusalem, turning his back on the place where Jesus had died, turning his back on the hopes that they had. The message of the empty tomb had been brought to them, and even the fact that the women had seen a vision of the angels saying that Jesus was alive, and he still didn't believe.
Think about how many people today are like these disciples- who had believed and followed Jesus at some point, but are now walking away and going about their own way of life without any concern for the salvation won for them through the Resurrection. The problem is these disciples haven’t connected the dots. They knew the Scriptures, they knew all about the stories of how God saved his people through the prophets of the Old Testament, they just didn’t believe Jesus was Messiah who fulfilled them. They knew about what God had done in their heads, but it hasn’t connected it in their hearts, for them personally. Just as many people today know some things about God, but what God has done hasn’t entered their hearts fully. So what are we to do? Well, let us see what Jesus does.
Jesus says to the fallen disciples, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” He calls them out, He tells them they are missing something. And then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. Notice that Jesus doesn't just say “you fools” and then walk off. He meets them where they are in their brokenness, in their lack of faith and doubt, and he basically starts a Bible study for them, going all the way back to Genesis. “Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he interpreted to them in the Scriptures all the things concerning himself.”
One of the big problems we have today is that so many people only read the New Testament. We start in the Gospels or we start in the New Testament and we never go back to the Old Testament. Because of that, we don't see the connections between the Old and the New Testament. We do not connect the dots. We don’t see how the New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old is revealed in the New. That's what we need to see if we are going to have faith that Jesus isn't just one more messianic pretender, he isn't just one more religious leader making all kinds of wild claims about himself. His claims that he makes about himself are validated and vindicated by the prophecies of the Old Testament and the types of the Old Testament that he fulfills in himself — like being the new Adam or the new Moses or the new David. I know those who came to my teaching on the Jewish roots, or those who are in Coffeebreak bible study on Wednesdays- have grown in their faith and love for God because the dots are being connected of the Old and New Testaments in their heads and their hearts. This is one of the reasons why every Sunday we hear from an Old Testament reading (all except this time where we hear from Acts of the Apostles and how the Church started). The Church in her wisdom put the readings together so we could see how the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New. And that is why I try and connect the dots of the Old Testament with the Gospel in my homilies. That is the same thing Jesus was doing with these disciples on their way to Emmaus. The only reason these disciples were able to see Jesus in the breaking of bread is because he already prepared their hearts by teaching them through the Word, by unpacking the Scriptures. The Liturgy of the Word at Mass is just as important as the Eucharist. It prepares our hearts to more fully embrace Jesus in the Eucharist. So we would do well to pay attention, to read and preferably study them before Mass. Then when you arrive at mass be prepared to listen carefully to the Liturgy of the Word and the homily, not just focusing just to the Eucharist, because the richness of the Mass is embracing both, because Christ is really present in both. It's really the Word that is going to till the soil of the heart and enable us to see Jesus in the breaking of bread.
As they drew near to the village to which they were going, Jesus appeared to be going further. They constrained Jesus, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So after Jesus had broken open the Scriptures with them on the journey, he went in to stay with them. And our Gospel says, “when he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them”. Those exact same four verbs occur at the Last Supper. So when Jesus does that, he is reenacting the same thing he did on Holy Thursday a few days before with the disciples in the upper room when he instituted the Eucharist, when he celebrated the Last Supper. And as soon as he does that, it says “their eyes were open and he vanished out of their site and they recognized him.” They recognized him in the breaking of the bread, so the question is why does Jesus vanish? Why does he disappear? I think the answer is simple but profound. Namely this, he is trying to get them to direct their eyes, their vision, to the way he's going to be with them from now on, which is in the Eucharist itself, in the breaking of the bread. In other words, he does answer their prayer when they asked him to stay with them. He does stay with them and with us, but now he's going to remain with them in a different way. He is preparing us for the intimacy Eucharist. Now he's going to come to us under the appearance of the bread and wine, under the appearance of the Eucharist, so that he can be with us always, even to the end of time, but in a new form and in a way that he is not limited to one location, so He can be present around the world at the same time. So let us pray that our hearts will burn within us and we will truly recognize His Real Presence a few minutes in the Breaking of the Bread, the Holy Eucharist.BACK TO LIST