13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognising him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then 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?” 19 He 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, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But 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. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and 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. 24 Some 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.” 25
Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But 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. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They 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?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
What to do with this educator’s commentary
This commentary presents Luke 24:13-35 in its own right without an interpretation presumed within a Religious Education topic or unit of work.
This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation.
Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.
This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.
In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretations and to listen to those of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.
Structure of the commentary:
The world of the author’s community
Questions for the teacher
Text & textual features
Characters & setting
Ideas / phrases / concepts
Questions for the teacher
Questions for the teacher
Meaning for today / challenges
Church interpretations & usage
The World Behind the Text
There are two ‘worlds’ behind the text: the world that produced it and the world of the time in which it is set. Read more about the world of Luke’s Gospel here.
This text, one that contributes significantly to Luke’s Christology, has a clear and deliberate structure as follows:
The world of the text
Text & textual features
The Road to Emmaus is only found in the Gospel of Luke. It is nestled between two other prominent appearance texts: the story of the empty tomb (Lk 24: 1-8) and the story about Jesus appearing to the Apostles (Lk 24: 36-43). As the longest of all appearance stories, this unique tale of profound humanity, emerging out of deep disillusionment, stands out as a touchstone of meaning at the end of Luke’s Gospel. Like the Infancy Narrative, it contains several of Luke’s key themes telling of both physical and emotional journeys and of course a meal which brings about knowing.
- disciples head for Emmaus vs 13-15
- encounter and dialogue with Jesus vs 16-24
- interpretation of Scripture vs 25-27
- moment of recognition vs 28-32
- return to Jerusalem vs 33-35
Characters & setting
Although Emmaus is named by Luke as two hours from Jerusalem, the actual city the disciples seem to be walking towards is unknown.
The two on the road:
As this story comes after Peter’s doubt filled visit to the empty tomb (Lk 24: 12), it is presumed that ‘the two of them’ are Jesus’ disciples. They are portrayed at the outset as individuals needing to reflect on their recent experience as they walk on from bewilderment and human destruction. This experience clearly refers to Jesus’ death on the cross. ‘…all these things that had happened’ gives an impression of a comprehensive dialogue between individuals who share a unique and deep human experience. One of these characters is named Cleopas and the other is unnamed, as so often happens in the Gospel narratives. This is the only time Cleopas is named in any of the four Gospels.
This is one of the most poignant texts across all four Gospels. Throughout its comprehensive theological arrangement, there are several key themes and concepts that emerge.
The disciples’ all-encompassing journey is the bedrock for the Lukan author to explore human experience in the midst of Divine reality. By contrasting the movement of the disciples, first away from and then back to their centre, Jerusalem, Luke is about to speak about all disciples who wander.
Absence and presence:
On the walk, Luke explores the relationship between absence and presence in the midst of ordinary daily life, in this case after trauma, death and suffering. As the disciples move towards a sense of presence they must emerge from a place where absence and loss abound.
Hospitality of God:
The ultimate inner knowing of Divine presence comes in the form of a simple meal of bread in a landscape of hospitality and willingness to give generously to the other. This is the dynamic birthplace of the Divine. The sharing of bread at table by the one laid in a feeding bin at his birth, leads to the extraordinary possibility of spiritual transformation and a way of believing that requires seemingly impossible amounts of courage and heartfelt strength.
Loss and bewilderment:
It is evident that the disciples are carrying an immense amount of loss, bewilderment and grief as they try and move on from Jesus’ appalling death on the cross. What they hoped for has now come to naught. This reality is explicitly named at this point. They seem to be walking away with their hearts emptying out as they journey onwards. The depth of their experience unfolds as they encounter someone who appears as a stranger to them. It is only later in the text that they realise it is ‘the risen Lord’. In an odd literary moment, the disciples provide Jesus with a detailed account of his own death. Jesus draws them out through continuous dialogue and gentle questioning as he listens and engages as an equal.
As evidenced in the Jewish Scriptures, the Jewish nation expected a Messiah to liberate them from political injustice. Jesus, who becomes the Messiah through death, must endure absolute suffering as a result of abusive power and authority. This was the unexpected twist attached to Jesus’ experience. The notion of the Suffering Servant can be traced back to the Jewish Scriptures (Is 53: 3, Zec 12: 10 & 13:1). Those closest to Jesus during his lifetime and the early church community had to face this ultimate spiritual conundrum. Today’s reader is invited to explore this seminal question about the centrality of suffering to Jesus Christ’s identity as the Son of God.
A Eucharistic encounter:
The highpoint of this appearance story is when the disciples’ eyes are opened, and their hearts burn for the first time. They now recognise Jesus in a new way. It was him all along in the mystery of unknowing and dialogue. Critical to this moment of recognition is Jesus’ action of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving bread to those who provide him with ordinary hospitality in the evening. This eucharistic moment reminds the reader of the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Lk 9:16) and The Last Supper (Lk 22:19). As we interpret this rich text from our modern stance, we must remember that it forms part of a Gospel constructed several decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. From this perspective, it reflects the developing spirituality and intellectual psyche of the emerging early church.
Questions for the teacher:
The world in front of the text
Questions for the teacher:
Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.
Meaning for today/challenges
In our current context, this text holds many rich points of connection to our lives. The key areas that stand out for Catholic educators include the following:
- spiritual transformation
- and encounter.
From a faith perspective, these concepts can become enriched as we contemplate their importance for daily living during prayer and reflection. This text highlights the importance of relationships, and it celebrates the notion of dialogue as the thread that binds right relationship with all. As a text that lies at the heart of Christianity, it can also aid us in our relationship with God. It is a reminder of the deeply personal and loving nature of this relationship. What the disciples experienced is also on offer to us today if we are open to believe in the one we call Messiah.
What defines this text is the raw, reality of suffering, grief and loss as the stepping stone towards resurrection and hope.
From an ecological perspective, this text holds crucial wisdom as we try and resurrect our relationship with the earth that has been so damaged today. As forests are cleared, coral reefs bleached, animals experience extinction, seas fill with plastics, air is poisoned, and land fill overflows with excessive food waste we are now called to seek Christ in this space of utter suffering and poverty.
As the disciples experienced a change of heart in a moment of spiritual absence and loss we too, are called to recognize Christ who sits at our table of life. This includes all elements of creation as equal, dignified and loved in their own right. The Road to Emmaus invites us to open our eyes to creation’s immense beauty and truly believe that a new relationship grounded in mutual respect and Christ centred dialogue is possible.
Church interpretation & usage
From a liturgical angle, this text finds its home in the Easter season of the liturgical calendar. It is one of the texts used during Easter. As educators, it would be critical to explore this text with students during this time. As there is so much richness in it this could take place over several sessions. During the Easter season this text is perfect as the foundation for prayer. It could be delivered as a meditation or short excerpts could be used as a basis for Lectio Divina.