The Journey to Emmaus – Liam O’Donovan SAC

This icon was chosen for this Year of the Word. It depicts the story from today’s gospel, “The Journey to Emmaus.” You’ll notice that in contrast to how the story is unusually imagined, as being two male disciples on the road (e.g. Caravaggio, “Supper at Emmaus”), it is a couple, a husband and wife. This comes from the earliest tradition of the Church, the belief that it was Cleopas, as we are told in the passage, and his wife Mary of Cleopas. It is interesting to note how often God’s work of Salvation is tied up with married couples, that itself tells us of the importance of this institution and this sacrament.

What Luke is trying to do here is point us to two other couples significant in this God’s work of salvation. We have reached the climax of the salvation history, but for us to understand Emmaus more fully Luke points back, first of all to Genesis. Remember that first couple, Adam and Eve. They took, grasped at, the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, because they wanted to be like God without God. When they ate their eyes were open and they realised they were naked, they were aware of their own sin and shame. And still God comes to them to walk with them in the cool of the evening, but when they hear coming him, they hide themselves from him, they cut themselves off, they run from him. But God, from the very beginning, moves to overcome their broken relationship. He continues to pursue them.

On the road to Emmaus, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has caught up with them. He is again walking with them in the cool of the evening, even though they do not recognise him, he hides himself from them. Only after they ate the bread, the bread he had broken and had given them, were their eyes open, they recognised it was him, Jesus, the Son of God. It has come full circle—this divine-human relationship is restored.

There’s more! Luke also wants us to have in the back of our minds another couple at the beginning of his gospel. A couple Joseph and Mary who were leaving Jerusalem after the Festival of the Passover when they discover that their child is missing. They go back and find him in the Temple and are confused by his actions and then by his words: “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s work.” Yet Mary ponders all of this in her heart. And like the disciples on the road Mary’s heart was set on fire with wisdom and zeal and love for God and man.

So, what is all of this saying to us now in this moment, in these strange times? Sometimes we need to be stretched, to be lost and confused, to be spiritually naked—confronted by how rooted we are in sin, grief stricken, anxious, to realise our neediness, our dependence, so that there is space in our hearts to receive God, to discover who Jesus really is for me, to appreciate what he has done for us and what he continues to do for us if we only allow him to.

It’s a gift to be in that place and maybe many of us are in that place right now of feeling a bit stretched. It’s a gift because now he can reveal that he is more than we imagine. He can dispel all the soft, diluted notions we have about him. He is more than a prophet or a moral teacher or a spiritual guru. He is God, he is the Just and Merciful Saviour of the world. He is that answer to all meaningful questions. The solution to all problems—the hang-ups we have about ourselves, our poor self-image, all our worries, our broken relationships, sin, even death.

The question is, as you walk along this road with a heavy heart, are you going to invite him in or are you going to let him pass as a stranger? Invite him in! Invite him into your life, your marriage, your family, your work, your school, your relationships, your depression. Learn to speak about him to each other. Ask questions. Speak to him, open your heart to him. But most important listen to him, listen to his word, ponder it in your heart and he will set it on fire. He will transform your fear and confusion, your grief and sin into courage and joy and peace and love.