Stranger on the Road to Emmaus
At this time of pandemic, it is very painful for all us to be denied the opportunity to come together as a parish community to celebrate Mass. It was a delight that we have found a way of livestreaming Mass on Sunday. Thank you for all the very positive feedback.
This week at Mass we hear the beautiful encounter that Cleopas and his companion had with the stranger who met them on the road. The two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem. It seems they were going home. They were turning their backs on the life that they had with Jesus for three years. Those three years were a time of hope and joy. They saw Jesus perform miracles and healings and heard his life giving words.
They didn’t recognise the stranger who was Jesus. He saw the sadness and disappointment in their faces and asked them what was the matter. It all came tumbling out as they told Jesus about all they had experienced and the hope they had for Jesus. What they could not understand was his rejection and death. With his death their hope collapsed. Jesus listened to their tale. When they had finished only then did Jesus respond, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Jesus then reminded them of the familiar writing from Moses and the prophets that showed that there was to be suffering and death.
So let’s look at these first movements in the story. Cleopas and companion were walking away. They were returning to their old way of life. As one commentator says, “the disciples abandoned the way of Jesus because he did not meet their expectations. Their infidelity is contrasted with the fidelity of the women went to the tomb and seen Jesus.” They didn’t recognise Jesus and he asked them to tell their story. Jesus listened. Their telling of their hopes and expectations of Jesus was an important stage of this journey. It was only after listening to them, Jesus helped them to see these past events in the light of scripture. Jesus is with us on our journey. Perhaps we don’t always recognise that he is there with us. I often find it helpful to hear Jesus ask me: “What is troubling you?” “Tell me how things are with you at the moment?” It is only after my telling him will he show the meaning of things that are happening to me in the light of his Word.
Luke’s Resurrection story continues. When they reached Emmaus, “Jesus walked ahead as if he was to go on”. They wanted him to stay and invited him to be with them. It was in this act of hospitality that they recognised Jesus. They recognised him in the breaking of bread.
If you get a chance visit the National Gallery in London, find Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s painting “The Supper at Emmaus”. Painted at the height of his fame, this is among his most impressive domestic religious pictures. He brilliantly captures the dramatic climax of the story, the moment when the disciples suddenly see what has been in front of them all along. Their actions convey their astonishment, one is about to leap out of his chair while the other throws out his arms in a gesture of disbelief. The stark lighting underlines the dramatic intensity of the scene.
It is when we welcome others in hospitality that we come to see Jesus. It is in the breaking of bread, a phrase used by the early Church to refer to the Eucharist, that we encounter Jesus. Jesus then vanishes from their sight and they say to one another: “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was talking to us on the road.”
With this encounter, even though it was evening, they immediately returned to Jerusalem. They went to share their joy with the eleven. They could not keep it to themselves. They were revived and became missionary disciples.