Even Disappointed on the Road to Emmaus, Do Not Forget: You Are Part of a Love Story (Gospel Reflection)
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One of the best ways to enrich your experience at Sunday Mass is to pray the Gospel Reading personally.
A great way of doing this is using the technique of Lectio Divina, a powerful method which we explain here. The following is the Sunday Gospel reading with a reflection that is especially aimed at youth.
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We hope that it serves you in your personal prayer and that it serves as a resource that you can share with your apostolate.
Gospel of the Third Sunday of Easter (Luke 24: 13-35)
That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?”
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They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,
“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?”
And he replied to them, “What sort of things?”
They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. 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.”
And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”
So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until the rest in you. ~ St. Augustine
When we are disappointed, the first thing that comes to mind is to seek an escape. We want to get out of what ever situation it may be: a relationship, a job. Disappointment is often accompanied by anger, and anger blinds. That is why, as we make our escape from a frustrating situation, we aren’t even exactly sure where we’re going. What matters is to get away, even if we aren’t sure where to.
This is what happens in today’s Gospel. Two disciples, tired and disillusioned, decide to turn back. They distance themselves from the place where they had experienced the most powerful of love stories, as if to erase everything that had happened.
When we are disappointed and upset, we tend to torment ourselves in our minds, trying to find someone to blame, a reason this happened. The two disciples debate what happened (senselessly, at that, as there could be no winner). They have contrasting opinions, as the Greek verb antiballo – which means to throw things at each other – depicts so well. They are incapable dropping it, just like a couple will bicker to blow off steam rather than to find a solution.
Disappointed and upset, incapable of finding an answer, we inescapably fall into sadness. And, as Luke tells us, sadness too is blinding. We are no longer capable of seeing what is happening in the present because our hearts are trapped in the past.
The two disciples of this Gospel are just like us. We too try to flee when our relationships become difficult. We try to avoid the suffering they imply. We escape, like these two disciples, without knowing where we’re going. We just need to get away.
It’s likely that Emmaus was the very village where these two had first heard Jesus’ call. Returning to Emmaus then is like going back to one’s past, pretending nothing had happened. But some commentators note that in the time Luke wrote his Gospel, there was more than one village named Emmaus (one note says “a place difficult to identify). It’s as if these two disciples escaped towards the unknown, towards some place that doesn’t even really exist.
It is also true however that in the Old Testament (in 1 Maccabees 4:8), they talk about a village called Emmaus. It is the place where God showed himself to be the savior of Israel in the battle of Judah Maccabee against the pagans. Perhaps Luke is alluding to the fact that the two disciples are seeking for an image of God different from that of the Suffering Christ. Perhaps they are returning to Emmaus to seek the face of the God of victory, that of the triumphant and glorious God, the only face they wish to see.
Perhaps we too, whether it be in our relationship with God or with others, only want the moments of enthusiasm and glory, and prefer to try to erase the difficult moments that are present in every relationship. Jesus invites the two disciples to remember that “the Christ had to suffer,” and in doing so reminds them of the suffering they don’t want to see.
Jesus helps them to reinterpret this story of love in order to help them overcome their disappointment. Jesus opens the family picture album before them: he recounts the events of the Scriptures highlighting all the signs of God’s presence in their loves. Jesus helps them to see (their eyes were opened) how God had accompanied them. In fact, at the very moment that they re-see this story, they invite Jesus to stay with them – stay with us, for it is nearly evening: it is nearly the evening of our lives; hope is fading, we are afraid of the night. It is God alone who is guaranteed to accompany us as night falls in our lives.
When we look over the signs of love that fill the story of our lives, our hearts soften. If the disciples’ disappointment had driven them to flee, it is love that gives them the desire to return. The two return from Emmaus to Jerusalem, converting, changing the direction of their hearts. For Jerusalem is the home of the community that they had distanced themselves from and the place where they felt their relationships had been frustrated.
Luke only tells us the name of one of the two disciples, Cleopas. According to some, this rhetorical silence is meant to indicate that the other disciple was Luke himself, who out of modesty left out his own name. It’s more likely however that the other name is missing so that each person that reads this passage could insert his own: I am the other disciple. Luke has described the dynamics of the spiritual lives of each one of us: we had followed the Lord, we somehow are disappointed and upset, we distance ourselves from Him, but the Lord has followed us and recovered us.
We can ask ourselves what might have happened after the two disciples of Emmaus returned to Jerusalem, the place of the community. Perhaps they would not have stayed there long. Perhaps they fell back into disappointment and left Jerusalem again for a place with no name and Jesus went back to get them again. This is our spiritual life: we have a ticket for Jerusalem – Emmaus – Jerusalem! This is our life, swaying back and forth between love and loss (and love again).
Questions for Personal Meditation:
- How do you react in moments of disappointment and frustration?
- What helps you when are trapped in your own thoughts?