April 30th 2017. Third Sunday of Easter
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...
Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped short, their faces downcast.
Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days’. ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth’ they answered ‘who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.’
Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.
When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.
Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’
They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
Kieran’s Summary . . . The Gospel recounts the story of the disciples who meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus. At first, they do not believe in the resurrection and do not recognize Jesus. During their journey, they are transformed by their encounter with the risen Lord. This involves a transformation of their minds, their hearts and their senses. How does Jesus effect this transformation? First of all he challenges their ideas with a fairly offensive rebuke to the wrong ideas they now possess! He says, “Foolish men, slow to believe!” We must all allow Jesus to challenge our very poor knowledge. Knowledge is not just a collection of facts, but a synthesis of facts. These disciples already know the facts but interpret them in the same foolish way that we interpret most of the facts in our lives. Jesus leads these disciples through the Scriptures and shows them how the facts should really be understood. This leads to an interior transformation in the sentiments of the disciples. Originally their hearts were cold and immobile but now they start to burn within them. They arrive at Emmaus and invite Jesus to break bread with them. It is in concrete acts that our faith crystallizes. Faith can be very airy-fairy if it just exists at the level of our minds. At the breaking of the bread, their eyes are opened and they recognize Jesus. Interestingly, our senses are the last to be transformed. When we start to see things differently and our hearts begin to be changed, then we develop new eyes and see the world differently as well. What is the upshot of all of this transformation? The disciples change direction and head back to Jerusalem as witnesses of the resurrection! Do we think that we can encounter the Lord and keep going in the same old direction we were going in previously? No! If we truly encounter Jesus, then our minds, hearts and senses will be changed! The entire direction of our lives will be transfigured!
This Sunday we read the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus
This Sunday we have the joy of reading the account in the Gospel of Luke of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, one of the longest accounts of the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection. The first reading from Acts is a powerful proclamation of the resurrection of the Lord and of his kingship. The theme here is the capacity of recognizing the Lord when he is in front of you, acknowledging his lordship over everything, and perceiving that the preordained plan of God has been fulfilled in Jesus.
If we truly encounter Jesus, then we change direction, change hearts and change sentiments
It is impossible to do justice to the Emmaus story in the space that we have here, so we will concentrate on just a few aspects. The two disciples are heading away from Jerusalem, going in the opposite direction to the holy city where events have gone differently to how they had hoped. But at the end of the story, they will change direction and go to Jerusalem. Evidently this is a story of conversion after an encounter with the risen Lord. Another powerful theme in this passage concerns the human heart. Jesus addresses their hearts in a very explicit and direct way. He says: ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe!” But a better translation would be: “Foolish and slow of heart!” The intelligence of these men, Jesus is saying, is like that of a fool, whilst their hearts are ossified and immobile. As they walk with Jesus, their intelligence will be gradually illuminated by Jesus’ reflection on the Scriptures. At the end of the story, as we shall see, their hearts are no longer ossified but “ardent”, burning with zeal. When we truly meet the Lord, the result is a change of direction. We don’t encounter the Lord and stay going in the same direction as before! When we truly encounter the risen Lord, we won’t retain the same intelligence and sentiments as previously. Our intelligence, our sentiments and our hearts will be changed! Discovering that the Lord is truly risen is not just the cold apprehension of a fact. In the case of these two disciples, it involves a radical change of existential direction. The resurrection cannot be truly welcomed without being profoundly transfigured.
Our knowledge is deficient. We can know the facts without having a clue as to what they really mean
How does this transfiguration take place? When Jesus meets the disciples, they are “talking together” or having a discussion. The Greek term used in the original text indicates that this was not a peaceful discussion but quite an agitated one. They are really having an argument, and Jesus approaches them and asks what it is all about. The Lord is like someone who sees the disorder in the dialogue of others and intervenes to help. The disciples do not recognize him because their “eyes were impeded from recognizing him”. At the end of the text, at the breaking of the bread, their eyes will be opened. The transformation that takes place in the disciples during the course of their encounter with the Lord thus involves a change in what their senses perceive, a change in their intelligence, a change in their sentiments and a change in the direction of their being. At the beginning, the disciples have a sensory apparatus that does not work properly. How does Jesus begin operating his transformation? He asks them what they are discussing and allows them to explain themselves. They reply, “You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days’. It is interesting to note that Jesus does not “know” what these disciples know. His knowledge is different to their knowledge. They then list all the things that have happened; this list of events, even though they do not know it, contains all that is necessary for them to believe! They report the testimony of the women and the declaration of the angels that the Lord was alive, but they still cannot make the leap of faith.
We must allow Jesus to challenge our ideas if our hearts are ever to be changed
Jesus begins his operation on them with the words “Foolish and slow of heart!” The word “foolish” in the Scriptures is a strong word. It is fairly offensive and does not simply mean “silly”. Thus Jesus begins by challenging what we think is “knowledge”. These men must open themselves to a wisdom that is new. Before arriving at the heart it is necessary to pass through the mind. Their way of looking at things must be changed. Jesus supplies them with truths from the Scriptures, pieces of information that were already at their disposal. But the Lord makes connections between these things, creates a synthesis that is new. At the end of the day, knowledge always involves a synthesis of facts, a way of interconnecting the meaning of events. These men must allow themselves to be offended by Jesus. And that is necessary for all of us. If Jesus is to help us make a leap to a new way of seeing the world, then we must allow him to contest our inadequate understanding of things. And now Jesus begins to touch their hearts, so much so that they will later say, “How our hearts burned within us as he spoke to us on the road!” They begin to realize that the centre of life is different to how they had apprehended it. They arrive at Emmaus and Jesus makes as if to go on further – Jesus is the one who always goes beyond reality as we see it. They ask him to stay because they now perceive the urgency of continuing to dialogue with this person with his new and more profound wisdom.
When our ideas have been challenged and our sentiments transformed then we begin to see with new eyes. This all leads to a change of direction, a conversion to the Lord
And now they arrive at the moment of a concrete act. Until we engage in concrete acts, our experience of the faith can be very airy-fairy, a reality that exists only in our minds. They break the bread, a concrete act that impinges on their memories, impinges on something that is in their hearts, and from that moment their senses begin to be transformed. It is interesting that it is the senses that are changed last. We do not begin to see better right from the beginning of our encounter with the Lord. We begin by understanding better, then being moved interiorly at the level of our sentiments, until, finally, our sensory perception begins to apprehend things differently. All of this tells us that the resurrection is something that must be allowed to penetrate our lives, first of all by challenging our ideas, then by altering our sentiments, and finally by transforming how we perceive things. And where do we end up? We end up changing the direction of our lives. Jesus disappears from their sight. They are now witnesses to the resurrection. The night time is no longer a time for them to rest but a time to turn around and head joyfully to Jerusalem. There they meet a Church that welcomes them and now possesses the very same faith in the risen Lord. Let us all enter into this process during the season of Easter! May we be completely transformed, transfigured with a new intelligence and a new heart, new senses and a new direction in life!