- Alfred burt, adapted from an old English
That same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was. He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?” They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend. Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?” He said, “What has happened?” They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.” Then he said to them, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him. They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.” So he went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared.
- Luke 24.13-31 (The Message)
“There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man. “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’ “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
- Luke 10.30b-37 (The Message)
I would like to provide some context for the two passages that underlie my sermon on Sunday, and then offer some thoughts to guide your reflection on these passages. That being done, we’ll all be ready for Sunday.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is, of course, well known. While our reading includes only the parable proper, the inquiry by the lawyer, who is my neighbor?, was a frequent topic of debate in the Judaism of the day. There were different interpretations, some quite narrow, some a bit more expansive, and the lawyer wanted to know where Jesus stood. He was totally unprepared, however, for Jesus’ response. Jesus didn’t really answer his question with the parable. It is as if he told the lawyer that the question needed no answer; anyone – not anyone like me, not anyone in my ethnic or social group, not anyone with faith like mine – anyone in need is your neighbor. The only question worth its salt concerns whether he will be a neighbor to those in need. The parable then images something of the extent of Jesus’ notion of neighbor, expansive as it is.
The story of Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus has an interesting context as well. One of the concerns of the second generation of Christians, to whom Luke was writing, was how they would gain access to the presence of the Christ. They had neither known Jesus of Nazareth, nor been with him to absorb his example and teachings. How can we know the Christ? They asked; and now that he is no longer with us, how can we be touched by his presence? Luke likely included this story to answer that question. Whenever you participate in communion – when you break bread together – you find yourself in the presence of the Christ, to be blessed, transformed, and challenged. This story would have been of great comfort to them.
One theme that links these stories concerns the element of mystery in the advent of God. That is to say, God more often than not comes to us in times, places, and especially people, that we least expect. Grace comes as a surprise, taking us off guard because it is not at all what we would expect. And the “True Bread from Heaven” can provide nurture and nourishment when we least expect it, even on the road to Emmaus, when we break bread together.
I invite you to meditate on the element of mystery in God’s coming to us embedded in these stories, and from there think of unexpected times, places, or people through which God has come to you. I hope to see you on Sunday.