Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
Translation: And behold, in that same day, two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, having threescore furlongs from Jerusalem, and they were talking to each other about all that had befallen them. And it happened, in their talking and questioning together, Jesus himself drew near (and) was going with them, but their eyes were being held (and) they did not recognize him.
Background and situation: In Luke, people are often on a journey. Luke takes seriously the great spiritual truth that we are all on a pilgrimage through life. The Emmaus story, chapter 24, is also a journey story, and one that has certain resonances with another journey story in chapter 2.
In chapter 2, Mary and Joseph journey away from Jerusalem and find that Jesus is not with them. They go back to Jerusalem and search for three days. They are tired and anxious. When they find Jesus, he speaks of a divine imperative. He "must be"--dei--about his father's business.
At Emmaus, another couple journeys away from Jerusalem. Cleopas and his companion, probably a woman, are sad and disappointed. In this case, Jesus is with them, but unrecognized. Jesus speaks again of divine necessity--"Was it not necessary--dei--for the Messiah to suffer these things and enter into his glory?" In the meal, Cleopas and his friend discover that Jesus had been with them all along.
17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then 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?’19He 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, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But 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.
Translation: And he said to them, "What are these words which you are having with each other walking?" And they stood, sad ones. But one named Cleopas, answered (and) said to them, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem and you do not know the things which happened in it in these days?" And he said to them, "What?" But they said to him, "The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who became a prophet, strong in deed and word before God and all the people, and that the chief priests and our rulers delivered him over into a judgment of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he is the one about to redeem Israel. But indeed, and with all these things, it is leading into this third day from which these things happened..."
Who is Cleopas? Some early traditions identify him with the Clopas referred to in fourth gospel (19: 25)--"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife) of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." The names are not identical, but similar enough that some have suggested Clopas (whoever he was) and Cleopas (whoever he was) are the same person.
It is uncertain whether or not "his mother's sister" and "Mary of Clopas" are one person, or two different people. (If the same person, then two sisters in the same family were named "Mary," rather like the brothers on the old "Bob Newhart Show": "This is my brother Darrell, and this is my other brother Darrell.")
This would be possible among first century Jews, however, where Mary--really, Miriam, the name of Moses' sister--was, by far, the most popular name for a baby girl. Some estimate that as many as one-half of all Jewish women were named Mary in the first-century land of Israel.
The early church historian, Eusebius, identifies Clopas as the brother of Joseph and the father of Simeon. Simeon succeeded James, the Lord's brother, as leader of the Jerusalem church. If Eusebius is right, and if Mary of Clopas was Jesus' mother's sister, this would mean Joseph's brother was married to Mary's sister. This is somewhat unusual, though certainly possible. (If either one were related to either Joseph or Mary, it would also mean that these two people who did not recognize Jesus were his aunt and uncle.)
One wonders too: If Cleopas was the father of Simeon, as Eusebius says, that would mean that Cleopas was very much an "insider" in the church at the time. Luke was written c. AD 85, precisely during the time that Simeon would have been bishop of Jerusalem. (Simeon served from AD 63 to his death by crucifixion in c. AD 106.)
Sojourner: Cleopas speaks of Jesus as paroikeis, which means one who dwells in an area as a sojourner. The first identification of Jesus in this story, then, is as a stranger, or even, exile. (The words "parish" and "parochial" both have their root in paroikeis.)
This is a not uncommon designation for the church as a whole. We are all sojourners, traveling through life on a spiritual journey. The concept of "the way" is central in all four gospels. Indeed, the earliest Christians were not called "Christians" but "followers of the way."
Prophet: Cleopas also identifies Jesus as being "of Nazareth," and a "prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people." In all four of the gospels, but especially in Luke, Jesus is firmly in the prophetic tradition. Jesus' first words in Luke are to read from the prophet Isaiah. When Jesus raised the widow of Nain's son from the dead (7:16), the people exclaimed, "A great prophet has risen among us!"
Luke uses the word "redeem"--lytroomai--in only three places. One is in the Song of Zechariah (1:68), another is the prophet Anna in the Temple (2: 38). The third instance is 24: 21--"We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel." For Cleopas and his fellow traveler, this past hope has been disappointed. They had not reckoned with suffering and death.
The necessity of divine suffering:
22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and 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. 24Some 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.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.Translation: "...and also, certain women among us, who were at the tomb early, astonished us. And when they did not find his body, they came to say that they had seen a vision of angels who were saying he lives. And some of the ones with us went to the tomb and they found (it) so, like the women said, but they did not see him." And he said to them, "Fools and slow of heart to trust upon all which the prophets spoke. Was it not necessary (for) the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into his glory?" And beginning from Moses and from all of the prophets, he explained to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
The tradition of the women at the tomb is recounted. The tomb is inspected, but no one actually sees Jesus himself. The testimony of the women generates astonishment, but not faith.
Jesus asserts the divine necessity of his suffering. He says, "Was it not necessary (dei) for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into his glory?"
The death and resurrection of Jesus was so contrary to peoples' expectations for the messianic figure that the gospel writers assert that Jesus' death was actually an integral part of God's purpose. It was God's intention all along. Later, in Acts, Luke will write that Jesus' death was the "definite plan and foreknowledge of God" (2:23). This is a standard belief today, but one that might have been a difficult sell in the first century.
By recounting "Moses and all the prophets," Jesus places himself firmly in line with the prophetic tradition. First and second century readers would have understood: Violence toward prophets is not a new thing in the history of Israel.
One wonders also: In emphasizing Jesus as a prophet, is Luke subtlely affirming the Hebrew credentials of Jesus as a way of lending additional political credibility to Simeon who had been elected bishop over Thebutis, a noted "judaizer"?
Even though defeated, Thebutis apparently continued to have influence in the church. Just prior to the Roman-Jewish War, AD 66-70, Thebutis led people away from Jerusalem to a hide-out near Pella (in modern day Jordan).
In Luke, on the other hand, Jesus tells his followers to "remain in the city (Jerusalem)" and they did (24: 49, 52).
"Stay with us":
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But 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. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They 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?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Translation: And they came near into the village where they were going and he made as though to go further, and they constrained him, saying, "Remain with us, for it is toward evening and now the day is nearly over, and he entered to remain together with them. And it happened at table with them: he took bread, and blessed, and broke, (and) he was giving to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him fully, and he vanished from them. And they said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning as he was something to us on the way, as he was opening to us the scriptures?" And they rose up at that hour (and) they returned into Jerusalem. They found the eleven gathered together, and those together with them, saying, "The Lord has been raised indeed, and he has been seen by Simon." And they were making known the things on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
They came to the village to which they were "journeying"--eporeuonto--but Jesus intends to "journey" beyond the village. Cleopas and his companion prevail upon Jesus to stay. Jesus is said to be "with them" three times. In other words, he is emphatically present.
At table "with them," Jesus "took, blessed, broke, gave" the bread. This is the eucharistic formula. Nearly identical words are used in the stories of the feeding of the 5000 and the last supper.
"Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him." This recalls the first meal in the book of Genesis--the one where Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. In that case, "their eyes were opened" and they knew that they were naked. In this instance, "their eyes were opened" and they recognized Jesus.
To put it another way: This meal--the eucharist--redresses an ancient problem. The long exile of the human race--the long journey out of Eden--is over. The new creation has begun. This is the 8th meal in Luke's gospel--thus, the meal of "the new creation."
Even as their "eyes were opened," however, their awareness had been increasing, al beit at a pre-conscious level, during the earlier part of the story. As they thought back on it now, their hearts had been "burning" even as Jesus "was opening" the scriptures to them on the journey.
When they recognize Jesus, their first act is one of witness. They return to Jerusalem and tell Jesus' disciples of what had happened "on the road"--the journey, the way--and how Jesus had been made known to them in the "breaking of bread." Later, in Acts 2, Luke will describe the church as being a community devoted to "the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers" (2:42).
John Dominic Crossan calls the Emmaus road story "the metaphoric condensation of the first years of Christian thought and practice into one parabolic afternoon," to which he famously added, "Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens."
The story is not, in other words, primarily a description of an historical event, but rather a story that reflects the pattern of the Christian life as it is lived out by people on their journey through life.
It is, one notes, a communal journey. Jesus joined them "in their talking and questioning together." The word allelone--each other--is used three times in this text, as is the phrase "with them." This "journey together" is accompanied by the Lord. Unbeknownst even to those who would follow him, Jesus travels by their side. Like them, he, too, is a "stranger" and an "exile."
Notice as well that Cleopas and his companion are allowed full expression of doubt and disappointment. They express this frankly and openly. Jesus redefines their understanding, calling them to see the mission of God working even through suffering and death.
Jesus is emphatically "with them," but not bound to them. "He walked ahead as if he were going on." Nor is he bound to any culture or any time. He is "with them" all along however, and seen and recognized in the "breaking of the bread."
Image: Breaking bread at Emmaus, John Kohan.