Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV) - The Walk to Emmaus
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
I recently played the “Would you rather…?” game at a school retreat and we got into a heated debate when it came to, “Would you rather have absolute proof that God does exist, or absolute proof that he doesn’t exist?” I was genuinely surprised by how many students insisted on occupying a middle ground. Most of them wanted him to exist, but he wouldn’t be a good God if he forced us to acknowledge him, they argued. There has to be an option to disregard him. Knowing he is there and being his enemy is not the opposite to being his servant, because your life would still be totally oriented around him. No, the only “freedom” is to have the option to believe he’s just not there.
Those students then, must be pleased by the infuriatingly brief narratives of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. The God of the universe rises from the dead, spends 50 days hanging around on earth and all they managed to scrape together was two or three stories?! Perhaps they are right: there’s value in the uncertainty. Uncertainty, when it comes to God, is not a gap or deficiency in the information set; it’s a space for exploration and discovery. When less must be more, what can we learn from the encounter on the road to Emmaus?
The first observation I make is that the who of this revelation is just as interesting as the what. I realised for the first time as I prepared for this blog that the encounter happens on Easter Day. It’s astounding that Jesus spent so much of the Resurrection Day with Cleopas and the unnamed disciple. They appear nowhere else in the Bible and they don’t emerge as significant leaders of the early church. We don’t even remember the second guy’s name! Cleopas and The Other One are disciples on the fringe who don’t demonstrate an impressive knowledge of scripture or an ability to discern quickly what is going on. That is who Jesus chooses to reveal himself to on Easter Sunday, so what should we make of that?
Another observation I offer is that at the same time he is revealing himself to the disciples, Jesus is also interested in Cleopas and The Other One revealing themselves to him. He reads their mood, sees they are mourning and he invites them to share their story. It’s so humane. Jesus understands that there’s no point launching into your own important information when you know the other person is deeply troubled by something else. Even the news of the reality-altering Resurrection has to wait while Jesus listens to their woes! God does not dump explanations of himself upon us as though we were all blank sheets of A4 paper in a theology student’s notebook. He is much more aware of the complexity of our unique stories than we are ourselves. We readily accuse God of being silent and cruelly withholding his thoughts and intentions from us. Maybe he’s waiting for us to go first?
The geography of this narrative also struck me. The distance covered is just over 11km and they are walking out of Jerusalem to Emmaus. You’ll notice at the end of the story they head straight back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples what has happened. My observation is this: Jesus is prepared to spend a long time walking in the wrong direction with us until we understand what he is saying. He is an extremely patient teacher.
For our part, and I say nothing new here at all, God does have an desire that we will make an effort to study the scriptures as we see when Jesus reprimands the two for being ignorant of them. He is also prepared to keep walking on if we don’t invite him to come in, sit down and eat with us. Everything we need to know about knowing God is here. It’s not about being important or especially wise or spiritual. It’s not about finding the best theological writings. It’s not about having quick understanding or a high IQ. It’s just about giving time and growing in trust and love.
Emma Rothwell currently divides her time between the Church of Ireland Dioceses of Meath & Kildare where she is the Diocesan Youth and Children’s Officer and Wilson’s Hospital School where she is the School Chaplain.