A Cycle – 3rd Sunday of Easter 20
Lk. 24: 13-35
I once heard a priest say, “at some point in our lives, each of us must appropriate the faith of our parents for ourselves. If we do not make a willful deliberate decision, we will either leave the church of our childhood or we will continue to have our hearts unaffected by what we profess to believe.” There is no clearer story which illustrates the point he was making than the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
We know the two disciples were not two of the 11 remaining disciples. We know this because Luke in verse 19 tells us one of them is named Cleopas. The story further tells us after they realize who it was walking and talking with them, they rushed back to Jerusalem where they found the 11 gathered in that upper room. This is critical for us because those two like us are intentional disciples. That is people who chose to follow Jesus, some by invitation and others because they were moved by his message and they believed he was the one promised by God.
There were hundreds of such disciples following Jesus wherever he went during his three years of ministry. They believed and were willing to follow him because “…he had the words of eternal life (Jn. 6:68).” We do not know their background or how they came to become disciples. What we do know is at some point they decided to follow him. A trait they shared with the apostles and a trait we ourselves share with them.
Every part of their story of their encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus gives us a glimpse at the necessary transition we all must make at some point of our lives. We must move from being dedicated followers and practitioners of our faith to something deeper. We must, like them, move from a faith based on wanting what Jesus offers us to a faith flowing from experiencing what Jesus died to give us.
Their story tells us we can become faithful followers without ever grasping the meaning of his life, death and resurrection and responding to the call for each of us to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
During the past seven weeks, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, the church has been pointing us and challenging us to understand the need to have an encounter with Christ. An encounter that opens our eyes and hearts to see Jesus as the Lamb of God, sacrificed for our sins, so we might become sons and daughters of God.
Go back and read this story in John’s gospel for yourselves and focus on each segment of their journey. As you do that, visualize yourself in the journey. For them it began with a decision to follow Jesus. There was a moment when something happened where they were touched by Jesus and it changed them. We see that in the story of the two blind men who became followers. Jesus was passing by them on the road to Jericho. They cried out to him and Jesus asks them “what do you want me to do for you.” Their response was simple, “Lord we want our eyes to be opened” (Mt. 20: 33-34). Jesus touches their eyes, and they began to follow him.
Many of those hundreds of disciples who followed Jesus had encounters just like those blind men. The story of these two disciples on the road to Emmaus shows us it takes more than a miracle to move us from a dedicated believer and a follower. We need to have an encounter which enables us to gasp the mission of Jesus was to free us from sin, not just give us sight.
We like them need more than to follow because we believe. We need to have our minds transformed so we can truly understand what God planned for us by the death of Jesus Christ. Their journey with Jesus that day was like no other day they followed him. Their minds were elsewhere as he walked with them. Their disappointment overwhelmed them because what they believed Jesus offered them was destroyed by his death. They were confused by the story of his body not being in the tomb and that the angel said he was risen.
We have no idea of the teachings of Jesus they may have heard firsthand. We have no idea of the miracles of Jesus they may have witnessed firsthand. The truth is it does not matter how many, how long or how well they understood what was seen or heard. What is important for us to see in this story is nothing will ever change us until allow our eyes to be opened by a force beyond our experiences. No matter how much our hearts burn within us as we follow Jesus or do things to place ourselves in the presence of Jesus our faith will be lacking.
Think of what happens after this story in the scriptures. This is day one of Jesus’ resurrection. Before Jesus ascends, we will hear about Jesus appearing in their midst and eating with the disciples. We will hear stories of Jesus appears to hundreds; how Thomas touches his hands and side. Yet no matter how many times he appears to them, the disciples will remain confused and without understanding.
The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is more than a story pointing to His presence in the Eucharist. It is a story about how we need to allow Jesus to do more than speak to us, we need him to open our eyes and our hearts to respond to his presence in our lives, in the Eucharist and in the scriptures.
It is a story that should build an expectation within our hearts moving us to desire an encounter with Christ. We just need to begin that journey and be willing to open our hearts to God about our lack of understanding. Yet revealing our desire to understand and allowing Jesus to choose the time, the place, and the situation where we will like those two have our eyes opened.