Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

Returning Home

Did you ever leave the Church? Or, did you know someone who left and returned? Why did you or this other person return?

Many of us have left the Church, only to return and find a spiritual home. We may have felt distant from God, discouraged over an unresolved faith issue, or snubbed by someone in the Church. Then, something happened to turn us back. If we look closer, we will find it was not a personal crisis or children or maturity that made us return. It was God.

Popular Translation

13 On the day Jesus rose from the dead, two followers were walking to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 Along the way, they talked to each other about the death of Jesus. 15 As they discussed what happened, Jesus caught up and walked with them. 16 But the two didn't recognize him.

17 "What were you just talking about?" Jesus asked them.

The two stood there looking sad. 18 Then, one of them named Cleopas answered, "Were you the only person to visit Jerusalem who didn't know what happened a few days ago?"

19-21 "What?" Jesus replied.

"There was a man named Jesus of Nazareth," they said. "He was a prophet who spoke powerful words and performed great miracles. God and all the people really liked what he did. We were hoping he was the one to save Israel! But, the chief priests in the Temple and our leaders arrested him, judged him guilty, and had him crucified. He died three days ago. 22 Now, some women who followed Jesus really surprised us! Early this morning, they went to his tomb and 23 didn't find his body. They came back and claimed they saw angels who said Jesus was alive! 24 Other followers went to the tomb and found it just like the women reported. But, they didn't see Jesus."

25 "Foolish men!" Jesus said. "Are you so slow to understand you couldn't believe what the prophets wrote in the Bible? 26 Didn't the Messiah need to suffer and die so he could receive God's glory?" 27 Then, Jesus explained everything in the Bible about himself. He began with Moses and went through all the prophets.

28 As the two men came closer to the place they wanted to go, Jesus pretended to walk further. 29 But, they pressed Jesus to change his mind. "Stay with us!" they urged Jesus. "It's almost sunset." So Jesus went inside with them.

30 When they sat down to dinner, Jesus took some bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the two men. 31 Now, they could recognize Jesus! Suddenly, he vanished.

32 "Wasn't it exciting to listen to him on the road as he explained the Bible to us?" they said to each other. 33 Immediately, they got up and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven Apostles and their friends who were all together.

34 "It's true! The Lord is risen! He appeared to Peter," everyone told the two travelers.

35 "We know!" the two replied. "He talked with us on the way to Emmaus. Then, he broke bread with us. That's when we knew it was really Jesus!"

Luke's narrative of this gospel can be divided into three scenes: the complaint, the revelation, and the proclamation.

Literal Translation

13 Look! Two of (Jesus' followers) on the same day (as Easter) were walking to a village, being seven miles distant from Jerusalem, to which (was given) the name "Emmaus." 14 They talked to each other about all the things having happened. 15 It happened in their conversing and discussing (that) JESUS HIMSELF, catching up, walked with them. 16 But their eyes were prevented (by God) not to recognize HIM. 17 HE said to them, "What (are) these words which you exchange with each other, walking (along)?" They stood (there) downcast. 18 Answering, (a man), Cleopas by name, said to HIM, " YOU (are) the only (one) to visit in Jerusalem and did not know (the events) happening in (the city) these (past) days?" 19 HE said, "What (events)?" They said to HIM, "The (events) surrounding Jesus of Nazareth, who was a man, a prophet powerful in word and deed before God and all the people, 20 how both our chief priests and rulers handed HIM over to a death sentence and crucified HIM. 21 But we (followers) were hoping that HE was the one (who was) about to redeem Israel. But, along with all these, HE (lies in the tomb) this day (as the) third since these things happened. 22 Despite this, some of our women surprised us. Being early at the tomb 23 and not finding HIS body, (they) came (to us), claiming to have seen a vision of angels who said that HE lived. 24 Some of (those) with us went out to the tomb and found (it was) just exactly as the women said. But HIM they did not see."

24:13 "Being seven miles distant" is literally "being sixty stades distant." A "strade" is 607 feet in length.

24:19 "before God and all the people" does not refer to position, but to judgement. It can be translated "in the opinion of."

24:19-20 This sentence has a confusing construction. "The events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth" was answered in two ways. First, the relative clause "who was a man, a prophet..." explained "who" Jesus was. The phrase "how our chief priests..." explained "what happened" to Jesus.

24:21 "But along with all these, HE (lies in the tomb) this day (as the) third since these things happened." Usually, this phrase is translated in the third person neutral: "Besides all this, this is the third day since these things happened." But, there is a problem. In the context of 24:19-20, Jesus is the understood subject of the sentence. In other words, the powerful prophet Jesus was crucified. His followers seemed to have high expectations about his ministry (even after his death?). Three days later, JESUS had done nothing. At this point, the two gave up, but not without a comment about the women in the next verse.

The gospel opens with two people who followed Jesus, but felt discouragement. Events have dashed their hopes. Now they walk away from the Christian community in Jerusalem. [24:13-14] Luke symbolized the broken movement in Cleopas and his companion.

But, as Jesus once gathered followers with his preaching and great signs, he would do again. He came near and engaged them in a faith dialogue without revealing himself. [24:15-16] How does he begin? By being present and listening to stories of discouragement. On a human level, the two companions had every right to feel discouraged. After all, they placed their trust in reputation of Jesus, only to have that trust crushed by the actions of the religious leaders. [24:19c-21]

Jesus also listened to the companions' lack of trust. They heard the witness of the women to his resurrection [24:22-24], but through their actions (i.e., walking away), they showed disbelief. In light of past days events, the women's claim did seem hard to believe.

Catechism Theme: Faith (The first theological virtue) (CCC 2087-2089)

We can find the ground of the Christian life in the First Commandment: "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve." The commandment focuses our love upon something greater than ourselves. Without adherence to this commandment, our love would be misplaced or would collapse into the self-absorbing pity.

Hesitation (also know as involuntary doubt) is the first obstacle to faith. It builds up anxiety, making faith difficult to accept. Hesitation can lead to voluntary doubt, the active rejection of a faith article. Wallowing in doubt can cause spiritual blindness and incredulity. Apostasy (abandoning the faith) and schism (breaking away from the Church) may result.

We must remember, however, that involuntary doubt in the articles of faith can lead to a deeper understanding if trust in God and his Church remains. Trust makes apostasy and schism more difficult.

Have you or any Christian you know have a faith doubt, but remained faithful? How might that be possible?

25 HE said to them, "Foolish men! (You are) slow in heart to believe in all (the things) which the prophets spoke! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer and so to enter into his glory?" 27 Beginning with Moses (though) all the prophets, HE explained to them in all the scriptures the (things) concerning himself. 28 They (all) drew near the village where (the two) were walking, (but) HE appeared to walk farther on. 29 They urged HIM (strongly), saying, "Stay with us (for the night), because it is evening and the day is now finished." HE went in to stay with them. 30 It happened after he reclined (to eat), taking the bread, HE blessed (it) and, having broken (it), he gave (it ) to them. 31 Their eyes were opened (by God) and they recognized HIM. (Then,) HE became invisible to them. 32 They said to each other, "Was not our hearts burn inside us as he spoke to us along the way, as he opened up the scriptures to us?"

Jesus snapped the two out of their self-pity by grabbing their attention and explaining what they already knew in a fresh way. Jesus got their attention with two titles: "misunderstanding ones" and "ones slow in the heart." [24:25] When the two lost faith, they placed their focus upon themselves; they could not understand anything beyond their own personal lives or agendas. When they lost faith, they wallowed in their own pain; their hearts could not recognize others reaching out to them. In their case, they could not understand with their minds or reach out with their hearts to receive the hope recorded in the books of Israel's prophets.

Then, Jesus interpreted Scripture in a new way. [24:26-27] The Christ needed to die in order to truly live and give that life to others. Jesus took what the two already knew, but threw a fresh light on the matter. He made Scripture come alive and personal. Jesus renewed the hope of the two, because he gave them reasons to believe.

With hope restored, the two begged Jesus to remain and have dinner. With the breaking of the bread at dinner, they recognized Jesus. [24:28-31] Scholars have commented upon the liturgical overtones of 24:27 (proclamation and explanation of Scripture) and of 24:30-31 (the Eucharist). Along the Christian journey, we recognize the Risen Lord most clearly in worship: the Word and Sacrament. In the moment of worship, we know Christ walks with us.

In the previous paragraph, we used the metaphor of "journey" and "walk" for the Christian lifestyle. Luke did the same with the term "way" or "road" ("hodos" in Greek). [24:32, 35] The two companion's walk, their way, symbolized their lack of faith the Christian community (centered in Jerusalem). But, Jesus turned them around. Their walk would return them to the followers in Jerusalem to a greater faith.

Catechism Theme: Hope (The second theological virtue) (CCC 2090-2092)

The Catechism defines hope as "the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision." In other words, hope expects what faith explains. In this way, hope and faith are linked together.

The opposite of hope is despair and presumption. With despair, we reject any possibility for God's forgiveness and love. With presumption, we either assume in our own abilities (the mistaken notion we are truly in control). or, we assume God will forgive and love us without change in our hearts.

Like faith, true hope only comes from God. Hope leads us to depend upon God and his power to change us.

How has God given you hope? How has your faith sustained your hope in the past?

33 Rising up immediately, they returned to Jerusalem and found the Eleven and those with them, having been gathered together, 34 saying, "Truly, the Lord was raised and appeared to Simon!" 35 (The two) reported the (events) along the way and how he was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.

24:33 "immediately" is literally "at the same hour." Here "hour" does not refer to a 60 minute time frame. "Hour" is the equivalent to "moment."

In the end, Cleopas and his companion returned to the Jerusalem community so they could share their encounter of the Risen Lord. Notice, however, they hear the Good News proclaimed to them first by the community before they can share their story. [24:33-35] What they have to share was not news; it only re-enforced the Gospel that the community already possessed. But, their experience of Christ on the "way" (daily life) and in the breaking of the bread (worship) did strengthen the community's fellowship.

Sharing our stories of Christ builds up our faith communities, no matter whether they are small group, large parish, or diocese-wide. Every time we share part of our journey, we add brick and mortar to the sense of a living Church. This is true Christian love.

Catechism Theme: Charity (the third theological virtue) (CCC 2093-2094)

If we truly worship God, we place him first in our lives. The commandment to worship God alone entails the obligation to love him and everything he created. This love expresses itself in the virtue of charity when we actively share ourselves for the good of others.

Indifference, ingratitude, a lukewarm heart, and spiritual sloth can block the exercise of charity. Indifference neglects charity. Ingratitude fails to acknowledge the gift charity brings. A lukewarm heart and spiritual sloth simply puts off responding to God's love and the obligation to pass that love onto others.

When we are given faith and hope by God, we must respond in charity. Thus, the three weave together, for all three are gifts from God. Faith enlightens our minds and directs our trust. Hope inflames our hearts. And charity empowers our will to action.

How has the sharing of another Christian's time and talent inspired you to share what you have? How has your self-sharing strengthened your faith in God?

The Christian road we travel is paved with challenges to faith. But the greater the challenge, the closer he walks with us. Like the two companions walking to Emmaus, the Lord joins us to open our minds and hearts to his presence. He invites us back to share our lives with others in fellowship.

As he has done for us, the Lord asks us to do for those who have fallen away. Be present and listen to them. Make Scripture come alive and personal through examples of love. And break bread with them. In that way, they will return with their stories of God's goodness to strengthen us.

Who do you know has walked away from Christ and his Church? How can you listen to them, make faith come alive for them, and break bread with them?