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Focus Text: Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 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?’ 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, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 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. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 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. 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.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 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. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 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?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Scriptural Commentary on Luke 24:13-35
The story of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, unique to Luke’s Gospel, is central to the evangelist’s message about the resurrection of Jesus and its meaning. It is one of the more unusual stories we hear about encountering Jesus, but it is Luke’s way of conveying that the surprising and the unexpected are to be found in the wake of Jesus’ resurrection. One of the most surprising things, at least for those disciples within the story, is that the stranger they meet on the road turns out to be the risen Christ. At every turn this story is about revealing and discovering Jesus—through scripture, through the breaking of bread, and even through encountering a stranger on the road.
Traveling away from Jerusalem, disappointed and confused, Cleopas and his companion seem to have given up hope. Despite the fact that they had just celebrated God’s great past act of redeeming Israel from slavery during Passover, their hope of God’s reversing the current order of things and redeeming Israel in the near future had been crucified. These disciples had hoped that Jesus was “the one who would redeem Israel,” but, for them, that hope had died on a cross. So it is with tremendous irony that Jesus, the redeemer of Israel, approaches them as a stranger on the road, and yet they fail to recognize him.
The Old Testament is filled with significant encounters with strangers: Melchizedek – a priest and stranger – sets a table before Abraham bringing food and blessing. Before Egypt becomes Israel’s oppressor, they were the land of salvation for Jacob and his family during a time of famine. Ruth, a foreigner and immigrant, demonstrates faithfulness and solidarity with Israel, becoming the great-grandmother of King David. Cyrus, the Persian king allows the Jews to return to their land. The Torah also speaks explicitly of care for the foreigner among Israel:
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
The significance of encounter with the stranger is continued in the New Testament with Jesus and the early Church. It is the Samaritan, not the Israelite, who demonstrates hospitality and becomes the ideal neighbor in Jesus’ parable. The centurion who seeks healing for his servant and the persistent Canaanite woman seeking salvation for her daughter are both praised for their faith. Phillip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch echoes the Emmaus story, where scripture explored with strangers on the road leads to a sacramental act (in this case baptism). The meeting between Peter and Cornelius opens the church to a new understanding of Gentile faith.
Jesus himself explicitly identifies with the stranger, the outcast, and the needy. Consider his words from Matthew 25:
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. (Matthew 25.35–6,emphasis added)
Moreover, Jesus adds, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (25:40). The savior is stranger, the stranger is savior. To welcome one is to welcome the other. Thus, in both the Old and New Testament, the ethical responsibility of extending hospitality to the stranger is a key requirement of faithfulness. Disciples of Jesus are called to love the stranger as ourselves and as one with whom Jesus explicitly identifies.
Although the two disciples are downtrodden and disillusioned in the face of Jesus’ death, they remain conscious of the needs of a stranger; and although they do not recognize him, they seem to be continuing Jesus’ practice of welcoming and eating with strangers. Meals play a significant role in Luke’s gospel and are often settings of encounter between Jesus and other characters (1). At times they are scenes of confrontation (with Pharisees), of experiencing Jesus’ power (healing, compassion, or forgiveness), or of solidarity and hospitality (Passover, Emmaus). All of them reveal something about Jesus and his mission. Meals connote a gathering together in community and the abundance and justice which come with the reign of God.
As they sit down to share this meal, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to his disciples (24:30), recalling the Passover meal which took place only a few days before: “then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them” (22:19a). Luke’s readers will also recall the multiplying of the loaves, where Jesus also takes, blesses, breaks, and distributes the bread (9:16). It is here in the celebration of a mean, in the Eucharist (together with hearing the scriptures rightly) that the disciples finally come to recognize the stranger as their beloved Messiah. Christians believe that Jesus is present when the people of God gather and receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist. This story gestures beyond the communion rail on Sunday morning to a Eucharistic life that includes the sharing of meals, shelter, and friendship with strangers and finds Jesus presence in everyday meals and ordinary events.
If Jesus has identified himself with the stranger, we must ask ourselves who are the strangers among us? Are they immigrants, people of other faiths, the poor and marginalized, people with disabilities, the imprisoned, or the sick? Who are those who seem outside the networks of privilege and power? In the strange and wonderful new world which Jesus’ resurrection inaugurates, Jesus is to be found among the weak, the lowly, and the stranger. The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus reminds us that we do not always know when and where Jesus will appear in our lives or even what he will look like. The writer of Hebrews goes so far as to say that in giving hospitality to strangers some have welcomed angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). Facing the challenges presented by poverty, immigration, and ethnic and religious diversity through hospitality, friendship, and love should open our eyes to see the gifts, not the threats, strangers bring and the possibilities for experiencing God’s faithfulness together.
In closing, it is worth noting the shape and content of this passage. The disciples gather together (they are traveling together and also are joined by Jesus/the stranger). They hear the scriptures expounded. They break bread. They go out into the world to proclaim the good news of the resurrection. Is this not the pattern we rehearse each week in our churches? Like the disciples listening to Jesus expound the scriptures, we must turn again and again to the whole of Israel’s scriptures if we are to understand who Jesus the Messiah is—scriptures which are filled with strangers and the blessings they can bring and which speak of God’s good future and justice for those who are unfortunate and unknown in the world. Like the disciples, we will discover the risen Lord in the breaking of bread at the Lord’s Table. Like the disciples we are sent out to spread the good news. Like the disciples, if we can begin to see strangers not as ones to avoid, but as companions on the way fit for food and fellowship, we may find we discover we have been walking with Jesus the whole time.
By Michael Burns, Duke Divinity School Intern
1. “In approximately one-fifth of the sentences in Luke’s Gospel and in Acts, meals play a conspicuous role.” Markus Barth, Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper, (Atlanta: John Knox, 1988), 71. For meals in Luke cf. 5:27-39; 7:36-50; 9:10-17; 10:38-42; 11:37-54; 14:1-24; 19:1-10; 22:7-38; 24:13-35; 24:36-53.
Worship Aids about Immigration
Let Us See Your Spirit
Our journey through life is long and hard. We cannot make this trip alone; we must walk together on the journey.
You promised to send us a helper, your Spirit. Help us to see your Spirit in those you send to journey with us.
In the refugee family, seeking safety from violence,
Let us see your Spirit.
In the migrant worker, bringing food to our tables,
Let us see your Spirit.
In the asylum-seeker, seeking justice for himself and his family,
Let us see your Spirit.
In the unaccompanied child, traveling in a dangerous world,
Let us see your Spirit.
Teach us to recognize that as we walk with each other,
You are present.
Teach us to welcome not only the strangers in our midst but the gifts they bring as well:
the invitation to conversion, communion, and solidarity.
This is the help you have sent:
we are not alone.
We are together on the journey, and for this we give you thanks. Amen.
God of the Journey
God of the journey, God of the traveler,
We pray for those who leave their homes in search of new beginnings and possibilities, may they know your presence with them. We pray that those who seek to make a home in this country may find us welcoming and willing to help them find a path toward citizenship.
We pray that our legislators, as they craft new immigration legislation may find the wisdom and courage to enact new policies that do justice for our country and for those who would immigrate here.
We pray for those who fan the flames of fear and discrimination against the undocumented may be touched with your divine compassion.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
(SOURCE: The Archdiocese of Chicago; http://files.www.iwj.org/resources/a-prayer-for-immigrants/CollectedPrayers4Imm4.131.pdf)
Facts and Reflection about Immigration
- In 2011, people born in other countries (ie immigrants) represented 7.3 percent of North Carolina’s total population.
- The top three countries of birth of the foreign born in North Carolina were Mexico, India, and El Salvador.
- Children residing with at least one immigrant parent accounted for 16.9 percent of children under age 18 in 2010, 9.1 percent in 2000, and 3.4 percent in 1990.
- Not all immigrants are Hispanic, and not all Hispanics are immigrants. But there is a significant overlap, and as we have seen the growth of this population has been a major force changing North Carolina. In 2012, the Hispanic population in North Carolina was the 11th largest in the nation. About 805,000 Hispanics reside in North Carolina, which represents 8% of the state’s population and 1.6% of all Hispanics in the U.S.