A Provocation: The Third Sunday of Easter: April 30, 2017: Luke 24:13-35

Luke 24:13-35
24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,

24:14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

24:15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

24:16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

24:17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.

24:18 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?”

24:19 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,

24:20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

24:21 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.

24:22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,

24:23 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.

24:24 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.”

24:25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!

24:26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.

24:29 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.

24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

24:31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

24:32 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?”

24:33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

24:34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”

24:35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

First of all, I have written about this passage before.  You can find my reading of this scene at https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1992

Working Preacher is a wonderful (and wonderfully useful) project.  Check them out!

Because the Working Preacher piece is a fairly comprehensive treatment of this scene, I plan to offer comments here this week that are shorter and more limited in focus.

Some scattered observations:

  • The two disciples in this scene walk to Emmaus, which is seven miles away.  That’s a two hour walk.  They arrive when the day is slipping into night.  And then they return to Jerusalem, another two hour walk. Even if they hurry, they arrive in the dark. Think about that.
  • As they walked, they talked with each other.  The words used by the storyteller imply that they talked with familiarity together, meditating on the words and analyzing them.  This is not simple chatting.  It implies a level of intellectual engagement that is crucial for understanding this scene.
  • When Jesus approaches them, he asks about the words they are “throwing back and forth.”  The curtness of their response might be rooted in his rather dismissive characterization of their theological conversation.  A little later he refers to them as ἀνόητοι, which means something like “numbskulls.”  Just from the context, this is probably bantering rather than insulting, but either way, it means that Jesus and the two disciples are presented as engaging in a conversation that expects intellectual engagement from the participants.
  • Notice, then, that there is a persistent tradition that the two disciples were husband and wife.  It is not surprising that women and men would engage in intellectual conversation (or the conversations around the supper table in my family would make no sense), but it is worth noting that Luke’s storyteller expects everybody to bring their brains when there are matters of faith and life to be figured out.
  •  The disciples refer to Jesus as “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.”  This is an important way of speaking about him, and it does not preclude them also thinking of him as messiah.  If anything, it is a more certain and solid way of identifying him, since “messiah” is a term with no single settled meaning.  “Prophet” puts Jesus in the company of Elijah, Moses, and Isaiah, which is a pretty good crowd to run with.
  • The storyteller points out that Jesus was handed over by “our chief priests.”  Notice that this way of speaking maintains a family link even to the people who were obliged (forced, even, by Pilate’s manipulation) to hand Jesus over to Rome as a potential troublemaker.  The storyteller is furious at what was done, but still understands the chief priests to be “our chief priests.”  Don’t miss either side of this complex identification.
  • And don’t forget that only Rome can crucify people.
  • Pay careful attention to the pain of the phrase, “But we had hoped….”. See the Working Preacher article for a fuller discussion of this important revelation.
  • Jesus is recognized first when they eat together.  Think about what this suggests.  Watch the people you eat with to see what might provoke this recognition.  They must have eaten together often for this to happen.  Remember that Jewish meals were (and still are) celebrations.  Pharisees, in fact, celebrated each meal as if it were being conducted around the altar in the Temple, which made the act of eating together into an act of remembrance and communal consolidation.  Several years ago, in the midst of a classroom exploration of the way Jesus is portrayed in each gospel, a student suggested that Jesus in the gospel of Luke was “a big guy, goes maybe 320, 330 pounds.”  Did I mention that this student was an offensive lineman, also a big guy?   When I asked why he saw Jesus this way, he said that in Luke’s story Jesus is always eating, and “it was like he didn’t look like himself unless he had a chicken leg in his hand.”  I like that understanding.  Ancient Jewish meals were occasions to gather lost and scattered Israel.  This meal in Emmaus was exactly that, and that’s how the disciples recognized Jesus.

That matters.



2 thoughts on “A Provocation: The Third Sunday of Easter: April 30, 2017: Luke 24:13-35

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