"Life is not so much beginnings and endings as it is middles, middles that don't measure up -- and our happiness depends on how we come to terms with the pale reflections of our dreams. (Paul D. Zimmerman, "Middles and Muddles," review of film "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Newsweek, September 27, 1971, 106)

Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter (May 4 2014)

Notes on the Gospel

JGospelNow on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.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?”

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, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 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. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 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. 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.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 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. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 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?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35)

(There is a brief reference in Mark 16:12 to an event similar to that extensively detailed here by Luke.)



Introductory notes

1.      Each of the four Gospels climaxes with the telling of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

a.      Walter Kasper writes: “If we take the testimony of the New Testament consistently as our starting point and if we make this testimony the basis for the speculative development of our faith in Christ, then we must take seriously the fact that the Gospels are passion narratives with extended introductions (M Kähler). The cross is then not simply the consequence of the earthly ministry of Jesus but the very goal of the incarnation; it is not something adventitious but the very meaning and purpose of the Christ-event, so that everything else is ordered to it as a goal. God would not have become truly a human being had he not entered fully into the abyss and night of death.” (Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, Crossroad, 1986, 189.)

b.      In the Tradition we refer to the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus as the Paschal Mystery. The English word “paschal” has its roots in the Latin word “paschalis” which has its roots in the Greek word “paskha” which has its roots in the Aramaic word “pasha” which is rooted in the Hebrew word “pesah” which means “passover.” We read in the documents of the Second Vatican Council: “He achieved his task principally by the Paschal Mystery of his blessed passion, resurrection from the dead and the glorious ascension, whereby ‘dying, he destroyed our death, and rising he restored our life’. For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth ‘the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church’.” (From Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Dec 4 1963), #5.)

c.       The resurrection certainly meant everything to St Paul: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

2.      Luke is a master story teller:

a.      Two of the most remarkable stories of the Western canon of literature belong to Luke – the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son;

b.      One scholar writes about the story of the two on the road to Emmaus: “Luke’s storytelling ability is beautifully displayed in this appearance story. He provides a sense of rich particularity by the rich use of detail: the name of the village and its distance from the city, the name of the disciple, the gestures of hospitality. The story is full of emotions subtly sketched: the men stopping in sorrow, their report that the women had ‘stunned’ them, their recollections of how their ‘hearts had burned’ while in conversation with Jesus. And after the tumultuous movement of the previous section, there is an almost pastoral quality to this story. It has the feel of an evening spring walk in the country and a quiet conversation and a spiritual presence. No wonder monks prayed at the end of the day in the words taken from the disciples, ‘Mane nobiscum Domine, quoniam advesperascit’ – ‘Stay with us Lord, for the evening falls’.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, The Liturgical Press, 1991, 398.)

3.      Luke Timothy Johnson goes on to write: “In a remarkably down-to-earth fashion, Luke shows us narratively the process by which the first believers actually did learn to understand the significance of the events they had witnessed, and to resolve the cognitive dissonance between their experience and their convictions. The resurrection shed new light on Jesus’ death, on his words, and on the Scriptures. The ‘opening of the eyes’ to see the texts truly and the ‘opening of the eyes’ to see Jesus truly are both part of the same complex process of seeking and finding meaning. Without ‘Moses and the prophets’ they would not have had the symbols for appropriating their experience. Without their experience, ‘Moses and the prophets’ would not have revealed those symbols. Luke shows us how the Risen Lord taught the Church to read Torah as prophecy ‘about him’. Finally, Luke shows us how the process of telling and interpreting these diverse experiences begins not only to build a community narrative, but actually begins o create the community itself. The scattered fragments that have whirled in different directions (the women, Peter, those who had run to the tomb, the men on the road) are being gathered together in one place with one shared story, which is, ‘the Lord has truly risen’. They are ready for the full encounter.” (Op cit, 399.)

a.      “The full encounter” to which Johnson refers is described in the final verses of the Gospel of Luke – Jesus came among them and said ‘Peace be with you!’ before sending them on mission under the ‘power from on high’ and returning to the Father himself.

Our text

…. two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, …. Jesus himself came near and went with them

The two disciples – and presumably the other disciples as well – have been devastated by what they witnessed in Jerusalem. For them, there never was a Friday so bad, a Saturday so unholy.

Now the reader knows that Jerusalem is the place of triumph and that the Cross is the greatest symbol of victory known to humanity. The reader also knows therefore that the two disciples are headed in the wrong direction. They have taken a wrong turn and are following the wrong path.

What does Jesus do? Does he rush up and tell the disciples they are going the wrong way? Unexpectedly – and this is so often the case in Luke’s Gospel – Jesus simply goes to be with these two. In fact Jesus walks with them! And they are following the wrong road!

The obsession with moral rectitude within our Catholic history would probably have had us chasing the two disciples, anxiously telling them they are wrong, trying to get them to come back to Jerusalem.

Jesus, true to the Incarnation, enters their world – their world. He does that by joining them in a conversation. The Greek word, here translated as “talking with each other”, is homileō and it literally means “to be in conversation”.

Perhaps we will always tend to be moralistic and judgmental of those going the wrong way unless we can identify with Jesus and the Incarnation and be in conversation with the “other”.

Michael Whelan SM



“(The zealot is a person) who ‘loses himself’ in his cause in such a way that he can no longer ‘find himself’ at all. Yet paradoxically this ‘loss’ of himself is not the salutary self-forgetfulness commanded by Christ. It is rather an immersion in his own wilfulness conceived as the will of an abstract, non-personal force: the force of a project or a program. He is, in other words, alienated by the violence of his own enthusiasm: and by that very violence he tends to produce the same kind of alienation in others ….” (Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965, 18)