In this Sunday’s Gospel the city of Jerusalem is important and the journey motif is also important.
We must remember that Luke began his Gospel in Jerusalem, in the Temple. We have the story of Zacharias. Jesus for the major part of this Gospel is “on the way,” on a journey to Jerusalem. “I must go up to Jerusalem.”
Luke also has Jesus born on a journey. Mary and Joseph must journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Jesus’ entire life is a journey. He is born on a journey, for a journey.
The Emmaus story is a journey within the Jesus Journey.
The two disciples are not going “up to Jerusalem” as Jesus did. They are going away from Jerusalem. There are two disciples, one of whom is named Cleopas. Because of the noted examples of women in Luke’s Gospel, some have speculated that the other disciple was a woman, maybe the spouse of Cleopas.
At the beginning of the journey their eyes are closed. The death of Jesus had been for them a terrible trauma. Jesus is simply a stranger. But he “went with them.” He enters their emptiness, their meaninglessness, their feeling of divine abandonment.
Their conversation reflects the various “ups” and “downs” of their recent life. UP, “Jesus of Nazareth a prophet mighty in word and deed before God and man.”
DOWN, “our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.”
UP, “But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel (the Spanish translation says they were hoping he was “the liberator”)
DOWN, “some women from our group, (were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body.”
UP, “they reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive.”
DOWN, “Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.”
As the Journey progresses Jesus explains things to them and teaches them. They come to a point and welcome the stranger to stay with them. They recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread (UP) but then he vanishes (DOWN).
Jesus wishes to walk not just with these two disciples but also with us as his disciples. He enters into our experiences of loss, disillusionment, discouragement. But he also wishes to be our companion in our experiences of joy and happiness and celebration.
As people who know the companionship of Jesus we are to be his presence to one another. As Jesus entered into the experiences of the two disciples, so we must enter into the experiences of one another with the qualities of Jesus. Pope John Paul II conveyed the attitude of Jesus, not just in his words, “John Paul II loves you,” but also in his manner of receiving children and dignitaries. Pope Francis (with his smiling demeanor) captures the spirit of encounter very powerfully.
Are there any sadder words than, “We had hoped.” Disillusionment, disappointment, sadness that come from hopes shattered. These disciples experienced this. We at times experience this in our lives.
Yet what words of joy. “Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us on the way?” They only later realize that something was happening all along. Hopefully we all have had this kind of experience at some time and place in our lives, when our hearts burned within us, a moment that we look back on with great tenderness and joy.
Jesus is our companion on the journey. Many times our eyes are closed. We must recognize the face of Jesus in the strangers we meet along the way. Can I invite the stranger to stay? There are many kinds of strangers. People in the same family can be or become strangers to one another. If we are honest we have to admit that even our friends are part strangers to us. We are even part strangers to ourselves. Immigrants and refugees are a special kind of stranger that we are called to welcome.
These disciples were changed and went in a different direction; they returned to Jerusalem. We too at times must be changed and go in a different direction..
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