Acts 2:14, 22-33
Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11
1 Peter 1:17-21
Saturday afternoon I had the privilege of attending the First Communion Mass for one of my goddaughter’s older brother at my previous assignment of St. George. I wanted to get him a little gift so I went to the Catholic bookstore but quickly realized that I didn’t know exactly which book to get and had to think which book might be best for a 7-year old boy. I began to think about what I read when I was seven and had to think about what would appeal most to him, not just me. It is important that when we read the Gospels we realize that the authors had to do the same with the audiences to which they were writing. St. Luke was addressing a Greek audience and had to find ways to speak the Gospel to them in a way that was familiar and understandable to them and we see the fruits of that in the passage we just heard. In Greek literature there is commonly employed a literary device known as the ‘penultimate speech’ wherein the author gives a summary of the whole story up to that point before giving the final conclusion. It’s essentially an ‘in case you’ve been sleeping, here are the key points’ point before the resolution. This is what the story of Emmaus is for St. Luke’s Gospel and the key point that it intends to convey to the hearers/readers is the meaning of discipleship.
To begin with, let us first look at the question of who is going to Emmaus. In the story we just heard we are told the name of one disciple – Cleopas – but the other is left unnamed. If we continue in the approach to this story in the context of Greek literature, we can learn from other texts that anonymous individuals were often indicative of the whole of the humanity. The unnamed person is all of us. It’s you and me. We are the ones going to Emmaus, those souls cast down wandering on the road.
If it is us who are involved in this journey, not just two disciples of Jesus two millennia ago, the necessary next question is ‘where are we going?’ Emmaus, right? But where is Emmaus? The interesting thing is that if you look around, there is no mention of Emmaus in the Scriptures and there is no explicit mention of it in ancient texts, and when you look in the area where the Scriptures say it should have been, nothing is there. And that might be the point. Fr. Denis Robinson, OSB suggested to us on our retreat that maybe Emmaus was used by St. Luke as a fictional place that everyone knew didn’t exist to emphasize the point that when we walk away from the Cross, from the Lord, from the Church, we’re going nowhere. How often have we wandered around lost, strayed a bit from the path of Christ and gone our own way because things were too hard, expectations too high, strength not fully there, etc.? When we wander from Christ we are going nowhere. But the beautiful thing we learn is that we are never really left alone because Jesus always seeks out the lost sheep.
In the story we hear of how the disciples are greeted by the Lord Jesus, disguised from their sight, who walks along the way and continues to try to show them who He is. He speaks to them in various ways the same as He continues to speak to us through various people, places, and things when we wander away on our own path. And in the midst of the journey they come to decisive moment – an inn. The inn is significant in the Gospel of Luke because it occurs only three times and all are significant. The first place we see an inn is at the Nativity, when Joseph and Mary are seeking a place to stay and they are turned away from the inn. The second place is the story of the Good Samaritan. This story is an analogy of Christ and the Church, as Christ comes to pick up wounded humanity and brings it to the inn, the Church, and there gives her to the care of the innkeeper, the Church’s members, and says He will repay them for everything when He returns. Here we are shown by Christ what is the essence of discipleship – love other others, especially those in need. This brings us to the story of Emmaus, when the two disciples and Jesus come to an inn and the Lord acts as if He will continue on the road. The disciples stop Him and ask Him to come stay in with them because it is late and he needs a place to stay. Without realizing, maybe, they have been converted and learned what it is to truly be a disciple of Jesus. Despite their current state of despair, they have the necessary essential elements and that is enough for Jesus to continue the work. Upon seeing that they have learned the meaning of discipleship, Jesus reveals Himself to them in the breaking of the bread and disappears from their sight. At this they run back to Jerusalem – the come back to Christ, the Church, the Cross – and testify to what God has done.
If you think about it, that whole story is the story of the Mass. People are gathered, the Scriptures are explained, the Bread broken, and the Good News shared after the experience. And not only that – the story is the story of our whole life. Our life is the Mass! Do we treat it as such?
We come weekly and hear the Scriptures proclaimed. Do our hearts burn when we hear the words? Do we let those words continue to burn in our hearts throughout the week and fuel the fire by turning back to them over and again?
We come weekly to celebrate and receive the broken bread of the Eucharist. Do we realize that with out whole mind and receive it as such? Do we honor the Lord in the manner we receive Him and ensure that we are properly prepared? Do we let Him continue to purify our hearts and reveal Himself in the course of the Mass?
And most important of all – have we learned to be disciples? Have we learned to love others and to help them when the opportunity presents itself? Or is there something keeping us from following the Lord? Let us today come set aside all that separates us from the good Lord and let Him reveal Himself to us and continue to become who He has called us to be.