On this third Sunday of Easter, we hear an account of people meeting Jesus, raised from the dead. It occurs on the afternoon of the Resurrection, after the women who find the tomb empty proclaim that Jesus is Risen. Only St. Luke records this event. Take a moment to read or listen to the Word of God. Then we can think about what St. Luke might want us to understand.
What happens in this account?
Two disciples leave Jerusalem for a nearby town called Emmaus, about a two hour walk away.
The two disciples have some knowledge of recent events:
Jesus died on the cross;
Now, on the third day since the death, some women say that he is Risen from the dead;
Although they say he is alive, no one has seen Jesus.
The two disciples have come to some understanding of these events:
Jesus was a prophet—one who listened so closely to God that he communicated all he heard in word and in action;
Jesus' death means the death of their hopes that he would redeem Israel—that he would make things right between people and God;
The third day should have meant something important.
The two disciples walk away from these events.
Into their discussion comes Jesus. They do not recognize him.
After giving their explanation of events, Jesus gives his own explanation, relying on the Word of God as a guide. He shows them a new way—God's way—to see the events that have occurred.
When they reach Emmaus, Jesus seems to be going further but the disciples invite him earnestly to stay with them.
They share a meal.
During the meal, Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives them bread. At this moment they recognize Jesus, and he vanishes.
They immediately return to Jerusalem, rejoin the other disciples and share their experiences.
Does that sound about right?
Many people who reflect on this Gospel passage describe the two disciples as "going the wrong way." That is, they leave Jerusalem instead of staying where Jesus has risen from the dead. We could say that the disciples are lost because they are going the wrong way.
This is one way to interpret—to understand—the Gospel.
Is it the only way to understand the Gospel? The idea that the two disciples are going the wrong way might not seem right to all of us. Perhaps there is another way to interpret the reading.
In fact, this reading shows us that people can look at the same facts and get two different interpretations.
Could we say, instead, that the disciples retreat from Jerusalem? Does that change anything?
With Jesus' death, the two disciples experienced grief. Their vision of what the world would be like shattered. Now, though, they have been given a crazy new hope. They are not sure whether it is safe to believe it. The events that have occurred have given them a lot to think about. Perhaps they feel they need a little space and time to reflect.
They take some time apart from all the confusion. They retreat to Emmaus. And into their retreat comes Jesus.
They spend time with him reflecting on the Word of God. They listen. He shows them a new way—God's way—to see things.
They invite Jesus to stay, and he stays.
Together they share a meal, and in the breaking of the bread, they know him. Refreshed and energized, they set out in that moment to return to their community in Jerusalem, ready to tell others what they now know.
How does this representation sound?
When we describe it this way, it sounds like a familiar pattern. When we go to Mass, we retreat from our daily lives for a short time. We take who we are—all of our fears and hopes, all our sorrows and our joys—and we retreat for a time to think about them with God. We listen to the Word of God and we are helped to see life in a new way—in God's way. We share a meal and we know Jesus again in the breaking of the bread. Then we go out again, refreshed and energized, to share what we know with the world.
We can look at the account both ways. The two disciples go the wrong way or the two disciples retreat for a time. We can think about Mass both ways, too. We can roll our eyes and complain about leaving the things we would rather be doing, feeling like we are going the wrong way. Or, we can take a break from the things we would rather be doing, and retreat for a time with God. Does it matter which way we look at it?
Either way, what happens?
He shows us, if we listen, a new way—God's way—to look at life.
We share a meal and for a moment, we know him again in the breaking of the bread. Then we return to our lives sharing what we know.
We have grown.
Could this be what St. Luke wants us to understand?