Msgr. Beaulieu – Emmaus and the Scandal of the Cross

The fourth resurrection appearance on the first Easter is the account describing the Road to Emmaus, (Luke 24:13–35). Two disciples are leaving Jerusalem to go home to Emmaus after having travelled to the Holy City for Passover. Emmaus was about 60 estadia (Gk. σταδίους) or seven miles from Jerusalem. Along the way, they are discussing the passion and death of Jesus. The Greek words that Saint Luke uses for discussing and deliberating (Gk ὁμιλεῖν αὐτοὺς καὶ συζητεῖν) actually are better translated as to examine together, which implies that the two disciples were arguing and not merely conversing as the passage says. Though they had heard about the angelic announcement that Jesus was alive (Lk 24:22ff), those disciples still had doubts about the resurrection. And thus, so immersed were they in their own sadness even though they had hoped “that [Jesus] would be the one to redeem Israel,” they were unable to recognize the Risen Christ in the apparent Stranger walking alongside them.

The Gospel implies their hope that Jesus was the Messiah. However, in talking about the past events, as they walked along with Christ, they no longer referred to Him as Son of God or Messiah, but “as a prophet mighty in word and deed.” The Messiah that they were expecting would never have suffered and died on a cross. Thus, in the face of the scandal of the Cross, they had given up hope, like the other apostles who did not believe Mary Magdalene and the other women to whom Jesus had appeared earlier that same day. On the way to Emmaus, Jesus explains to those two disciples how His suffering and death were foretold by the Jewish Scriptures.

However, where exactly did Jesus validate the manner of His death from those sacred Hebrew writings?  By saying that His life and death fulfilled “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms,” Jesus is telling His disciples that His life, death and resurrection was foretold in all three sections of what Christians identify as the Old Testament. This three-fold division— the Law, Prophets, and the Writings (Heb. the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Ketuvim)— is a division that is still recognized in Judaism today. The Law of Moses, which is the first five books of the Bible, is commonly referred to as “the Torah”. As Jesus explained why the Savior needed to suffer and die He could have pointed to any of the following texts: Gen 3:15; Gen 22:8 Ex 12:13; Ex 13:13; Ex 30:12-16; or Lev  17:11-14. In regard to the Prophets or Nevi’im, while the promise of a redeemer is told throughout the prophetic books, Jesus would have likely pointed to the 12 verses of Isaiah 53 which graphically described the suffering, death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah. As for the Psalms, which was also a way of referring to the rest of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures known collectively as the Writings or Ketuvim, the most famous prophetic psalm in this regard would be Psalm 22:14-18. Like Isaiah 53, that psalm describes the Messiah’s torment, rejection and death. From the Scriptures, then, Jesus explained to those traumatized disciples, why the Messiah had to suffer and die.

In his Regina Coeli address, Pope Francis said, “The road to Emmaus thus becomes a symbol of our journey of faith: the Scriptures and the Eucharist are the indispensable elements for encountering the Lord. We too often go to Sunday Mass with our worries, difficulties and disappointments…. Life sometimes wounds us and we go away feeling sad, towards our ‘Emmaus,’ turning our backs on God’s plan. We distance ourselves from God. But the Liturgy of the Word welcomes us: Jesus explains the Scriptures to us and rekindles in our hearts the warmth of faith and hope, and in Communion he gives us strength. The Word of God, the Eucharist. Read a passage of the Gospel every day. Remember it well: read a passage from the Gospel every day, and on Sundays go to Communion, to receive Jesus. This is what happened to the disciples of Emmaus: they received the Word; they shared the breaking of bread and from feeling sad and defeated they became joyful. Dear brothers and sisters, the Word of God and the Eucharist always fill us with joy” (Regina Coeli, 4 May 2014).

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