EASTER III Acts 2:14, 22-33 1 Pt 1:17-21, Lk 24:13-35
Karl Barth, one of the twentieth century’s most famous theologians, was on a street car one day in Basel, Switzerland, where he lived and lectured. A tourist to the city climbed on the streetcar and sat down next to Barth. The two men started chatting with each other. “Are you new to the city?” Barth inquired.
“Yes,” said the tourist.
“Is there anything you would particularly like to see in this city?” asked Barth.
“Yes,” he said, “I’d love to meet the famous theologian Karl Barth. Do you know him?”
Barth replied, “Well as a matter of fact, I do. I give him a shave every morning.”
The tourist got off the streetcar quite delighted. He went back to his hotel saying to himself, “I met Karl Barth’s barber today.”
That tourist was in the presence of the very person he most wanted to meet, but even with the most obvious clue, he never realized that the man with whom he was talking was the great man himself.
It is very much like the scene on the road to Emmaus, when two of the disciples walk for a while with the resurrected Jesus, and they, too, had no idea with whom they were conversing.
They began to speak to Him about all that had occurred in the Holy City during the previous week. Most probably, Cleopas and his companion were husband and wife, residents of Emmaus and disciples of Jesus who had witnessed His crucifixion and burial. The two disciples chose to leave Jerusalem on the third day after the death of Jesus – the very day they had received news that the tomb was empty. They were “prevented” from recognizing the Stranger, Jesus, perhaps partly by preoccupation with their own disappointment and problems.
Jesus did not reveal his identity in a blinding flash, he entered their conversation, he entered the past with them; he sifted it with them – but differently.
Jesus listened patiently to the version of history that those two had. He didn’t cut them off after a few words. He heard them out. Had he cut them off, their doubts and objections would have remained inside them, suppressed and therefore all the more powerful. He listened, and in the light of what they said he read the past for them in a new way. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”
His coming to them and walking alongside of them illustrates the truth that the road to Emmaus is a road of companionship with Jesus Who desires to walk with each of us. "I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20). The incident further illustrates that Jesus is with us even when we do not recognize him. He may be walking beside us as a stranger.
The Emmaus incident is the story of a God who will not leave us alone when we are hurt and disappointed. As Francis Thompson puts it, He is The Hound of Heaven Who relentlessly follows us when we try to escape from His love.
“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” This language is a clear reference to the Eucharistic. “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” This is how future disciples will recognize him too, in “the breaking of bread” – an early term for the Eucharist.
But immediately “he vanished from their sight.” They will not be able to possess him as an object, nor locate him in himself alone. Henceforth he is “the head of the body, the Church” (Colossians 1:18). And he is no longer simply an historical figure, a regretted lost friend, a memory; he is the way forward; he is the Way to the Father; “through him we have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).
Luke’s Emmaus story teaches us that the risen Jesus is present in the Word of God and especially in the Breaking of the Bread. He is the one who personally walks with us in our daily paths, talks with us through His Word, and with Whom we can talk through prayer. And he is the One who opens our minds to understand and respond to His Word.
Our tradition teaches us that the reading of the Scriptures, the study of the Scriptures and the proclamation of the message of the Scriptures are the primary ways in which we meet God. Vatican II (Dei Verbum 21) tells us that Jesus is to be equally venerated in the Eucharist and in the Bible. Therefore, we need to study the Bible, learn the Bible, memorize the Bible and meditate on the word of God. We know that Christ lives in the Bible, and so we need to spend time in the Bible to have a deep, intimate, loving, caring, long-term relationship with Jesus. We know we are to brush our teeth every day. Likewise, we are to read the Bible every day. We need to read the Scriptures daily to meet and converse with Jesus Christ. It should be a daily habit because people either read the Bible daily or almost never. Abraham Lincoln said: “The greatest gift that God gave to human beings is the Bible.” Another President John Quincy Adams, said that it was a principle of his to read the Bible through each and every year. Theodore Roosevelt, said, “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.” Goethe, the great German philosopher, said that the beauty of the Bible grows as we grow in our understanding of it. Ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of God.
The Gospel says that their hearts burned within them as he talked to them. The word of God should burn the heart of everyone who reads it. In that fire the goodness in us will be enkindled and the evil in us will be consumed. Let’s pray that the Lord may sow the seed of the love of God’s word in our heart so that we may love to read and understand his word everyday.