13 Look, two among them, in the same day, were walking into a village at a distance sixty stadia from Jerusalem to which the name: Emmaeus. 14 They were conversing with each other about all these things that had come together. 15 It happened: in their conversation and examining the evidence together, Joshua himself was so close, he was walking with them. 16 Their eyes were defeated so that they not know him. 17 He said to them: What are these arguments that you throw back and forth while you walk? They stood sullen. 18 He answered one did, one by name: Cleopas. He said to him: You! You are the only one to live as a stranger in Jerusalem and not know the things that happened in her in these days? 19 He said to them: What things? They said to him: The things about Joshua the Netzer who was a man a prophet powerful in work and word in front of Elohim and all the host. 20 how they handed him over, our chief priests and our leaders, into a sentence of death and they crucified him. 21 We kept hoping that he was the one about to ransom Israel. But on top of all of this: it is going on three days from when these things happened. 22 But women, some women among us, they made us ecstatic: They happened to rise early, and go to the tomb. 23 They did not find his body. They came. They said that they had seen a vision of messengers, messengers who said that he is alive. 24 They went away, some men with us did, to the tomb. They found it so, exactly even as the women said. Him, they did not see. 25 He said to them: O numbskulls! and slow in the heart to be faithful in the case of all that the prophets spoke. 26 Isn’t it binding that these things the meshiach suffers and goes into his glory? 27 He began from Moses, and from all the prophets. He interpreted for them in all the writings the things concerning himself. 28 They were so close to the village where they were walking. He made as if to go further. 29 They violently forced him; they said: Stay with us Because it is towards evening. The day has already declined. He went in to stay with them. 30 It happened: when he sat down to eat with them, he took the bread; he blessed; he broke; he kept giving to them. 31 Their eyes were opened. They knew him. He became invisible to them. 32 They said to each other: Weren’t our hearts burning as he was talking to us in the road, as he was opening to us the writings? 33 They got up in the same hour. They returned into Jerusalem. They found the gathered eleven and those with them, 34 who said: Actually, he was raised, haShem was; he was seen by Peter. 35 They were interpreting the things in the road, and how he was known by 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.