Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Resurrection and Mission (Part Two): Luke 24:13–35 The Road to Emmaus

The second scene in Luke 24 verses 13-35 (Read opening essay on Luke 24:1-12) builds on the first. This is the famous “Walk to Emmaus” narrative:
    NRS Luke 24:13 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.
This narrative is filled with mystery and intrigue. Only one of the two persons is named (Cleopas, v. 18), but neither of them is among the Eleven traditional disciples. They are joined by the Risen Jesus, but are unable to recognize him during the journey. They end up in a conversation about Jesus’ death and the women’s strange (24:1-12) report from earlier in the day. “Jesus” then begins to instruct them from the Scriptures about the necessity of the Messiah to suffer. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus taught them from Israel’s Scriptures beginning with Moses everything taught about Messiah. Upon reaching Emmaus, they persuade “Jesus” to stay with them for the evening. They do not recognize Jesus’ true identity until Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to them” (24:30). At this moment, they realize that they have been journeying with Jesus. Jesus disappears and the two men hurry back to Jerusalem in order to declare to the Eleven that Jesus is truly risen.
This narrative contains some key insights:
1) The Scriptures must be understood in light of Jesus. Jesus opens the Scriptures to Cleopas and his friend. The Scriptures of Israel (the Old Testament) point to the necessity of a suffering Messiah. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah is the climax of God’s work in calling Israel as a community of God’s people. Individuals now need to find themselves in this narrative and live their lives in light of it.
2) The power, mystery, and possibility of encountering Jesus in the breaking of bread is a theme. In v. 30, Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to them.”  This was no mere meal. These words are an explicit allusion to the Last Supper. Compare the language of 24:30 with that of 22:19: "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” This is a mysterious passage. Why were Cleopas and his friend unable to recognize Jesus? Regardless, it is only after Jesus reenacts the Last Supper meal that they see him for who he truly is. I think that there is a word here for us-particularly for those among us who take a low view of the Eucharist. Let’s invite people to the Lord’s Table so that they may encounter the Risen Jesus through the meal.
3) Cleopas and his friend are transformed from forlorn former followers to empowered, passionate proclaimers. Just as the women in vv. 1-12, Cleopas and his friend are transformed into Jesus’ witnesses. There is no commission given, but they immediately return to Jerusalem to announce to the Eleven what they had seen and heard. Encountering the Risen Jesus is all that is required for a call to a missional life.
Have you encountered the Risen Jesus?
How has the resurrection of Jesus affected your life? 
What would it look like for you to live as an empowered, passionate proclaimmer and witness?
© 2015 Brian D. Russell
For more, pick up and read my latest book, (re)Aligning with God: Reading Scripture for Church and World . Now available!


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