The story opens with two people. Cleopas and his friend are on the road to Emmaus. They left Jerusalem. Why? To go home. To see mom. To get back to work in the real world. They discussed it. It was a nice dream, thinking that Jesus would redeem Israel. But Jesus was killed, and Cleopas and his friend were not the kind to believe what some women said about angels or what the inner gang said about Peter seeing him alive. That was too hard to swallow. Anyway, Cleopas and his friend were not part of the “inner gang.” They had no expectation about seeing Jesus alive again.
So they were going home. Sad. It was true, they could not stop discussing the events of the past week. But I think that was like the death of Osama bin Laden, or the death of Michael Jackson, or the death of Ann Nichole Smith. It was going to be the news for weeks and weeks to come. Still, Jesus was dead and now these two felt there was no reason left to stick around town. They had their old lives to get back to. And Mom had supper waiting.
I think the two on the road must have been watching CNN or MSNBC, or maybe FOX. The media these days tends to shorten the truth to fit it between the commercials or to cater to our short attention spans. We tend to not get the real story, or the whole story, or for brevity sake we sometimes don’t get the true story. Often we are left with the wrong impression.
These two on the road believed Jesus was going to redeem Israel – that’s a good way to put it. Their incorrect (media influenced) interpretation of the events in their distorted messianic expectations are the very kinds of expectations that Jesus tried to dispel from his followers. But they did not understand it back then, and they were clearly swayed by the popular interpretation of things. I feel these wrong religious expectations along with a perfectly reasonable understanding that death is the final chapter of a man’s life kept them from seeing Jesus as the one who walked with them. I feel they were obsessed with recent events because they had their expectations crushed.. Their story is about disillusionment and bewilderment, about disappointment and failure, and the only thing they know to do is to go home to mom.
But the truth here is that something new is being born out of the old. It has been born already, only these two don’t see it yet. They don’t see that there is no old life to go back to. They don’t see that that way only leads to death. The truth is, once in Christ, you can’t go home again. Once you put your hand to the plow there is no turning back. How else can I say this?
First Jesus explains the old so they can understand it without media or popular distortion. He tells how Messiah had to suffer and die and be raised up on the third day. He speaks of the law and the prophets, first on the road, and later when he opens the minds of the disciples to the truth of scripture. There is a new thing happening here. It is a new thing, but there is no disconnect from the old. The new is born out of the old. A baby is born from a mother’s womb. Babies do not spontaneously generate.
The first reaction of the two on the road is to acknowledge that their hearts burned as this stranger explained the Scriptures to them. The fire was not altogether extinguished by the disillusioning events of the previous week. Jesus fanned that spark back into a flame.
When Jesus broke the bread and they recognized him at last, how excited, how amazed, how life changing – well, you can imagine how they must have felt. All at once, they saw Jesus in a new way and they saw themselves differently as well. They were not the ex-followers of a dead prophet after all, but disciples of the risen Lord.
Yes, they could have stayed home in Emmaus at that point. They could have picked up their shovel or clay or whatever it was they used to do. They could have gone back to their old ways and their old lives and their old habits; but they did not. To their credit, they immediately returned to Jerusalem and to the community of believers. Why? Because Jesus was not only offering them a new life for their old, he was offering them a new reality, a new home and new family which is the community of the faithful.
The journey to Emmaus begins in blindness, gloom, disillusionment and despair. It ends with the warming of the disciples’ hearts, the opening of their eyes, and their return to the community. Truly, the old was gone and the new had come. Those who thought they once followed a prophet who died now became followers of a living Lord.
Likewise, each of us is challenged to decide which direction we are headed on the road.. Do we stick with the discouraged and disillusioned who have doubting hearts and blinded eyes? Or do we seek out those who listen attentively, see clearly, and respond appropriately to Jesus’ story? Scripture must be read, not with hearts influenced by this world, not with hearts stuck in our old lives and old ways but with responsive hearts in the newness of Christ and His community of faith. It is Jesus Himself who makes our hearts burn and opens our eyes.
For Luke, the Christian life is described as the Way. Christians must journey towards the community of the faithful, just as Cleopas and his friend did in the end. Christians must not be slow to share the story of their journey, either. We are to be mother, father, brother and sister to the faithful around us. To be new people in a new family – the family of the living Lord. This is the essence of the community of believers and to be part of this is why Cleopas and his friend returned to Jerusalem.
Conversely, to leave the community is to go the wrong way, for it leads us away from the Lord. It leads only back to the old family and the old life and the old work and the old death. May God forbid that once we put our hand to the plow we should ever turn back.
You know, one day all in the community of the faithful will be going home – and trust me, that home is not in Emmaus.