Monday, August 1, 2011

A God of Transformations: The Dynamic Presence of God in The Gospel of Luke - Part 9

The Emmaus Disciples' Story – Luke 24:13-35

          We shall now turn to our final text, the story of the two downhearted disciples on the road to Emmaus. Here we shall learn how the presence of God made manifest in the Risen Christ reaches out to people in unprecedented ways, transforming their minds by infusing a profound, living knowledge of God and His plan for salvation, their hearts by inspiring repentance and love, and their lives by animating them with a new power to witness to their Resurrected Lord.
          What were these two men, Cleopas and the other disciple, like before their encounter with the Risen Jesus? At this point in their life story, they might best be characterized as disillusioned followers of Christ. They had believed that Jesus was Someone special, Someone worthy of their trust, of their hope, of their loyalty. They had accepted Him as a “prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,” and they had hoped that “He was the One to redeem Israel” (24:19, 21). In other words, they had regarded Jesus the Messiah of God sent to claim His temporal throne and rescue Israel from Roman oppression. (51) Now He was dead, crucified by the “chief priests and rulers,” before He had fulfilled their expectations (24:20). The hopes of these two disciples had fallen to pieces around them, and they were now disappointed, discouraged, and downhearted. They had not properly understood Jesus' teachings; they had not grasped the true nature of His Messiahship of sacrifice and redemption nor the necessity of His passion and death. They had let their own opinions and desires cloud their vision and determine their faith, and when their expectations did not come to pass, their faith faltered and all but disappeared. Jesus was simply not Who they had thought He was, and they seemed “to have given all up for lost.” (52) Even reports from those of their company who had seen the empty tomb, as amazing as they were, did not to shake their incredulity, for they themselves had not seen Jesus, nor had He appeared to the most “important” of the disciples. (53) Their actions reflected their state of mind. They left Jerusalem, deserting the other disciples, ignoring Jesus' promise that on the third day He would rise, and clinging stubbornly and pridefully to their own conception of what was “supposed to happen.” They lacked the humility and the patience to wait for the true fulfillment of Jesus' mission.
          What happened, then, to these two discouraged men as they trudged toward Emmaus, discussing the occurrences of the past few days (24:13-14)? As they were walking along, “Jesus Himself drew near and went with them” (24:13-15), but they were prevented from recognizing Him (24:16). This was the first time the Risen Lord appeared in the Gospel of Luke, and those blessed enough to be on the receiving end of that appearance did not even realize it! Were they blinded by their own disbelief and disappointment, or did Jesus conceal His identity on purpose in order to teach His disciples “under cover” and strengthen their faith? The text does not tell us, but in any case, these disciples encountered the divine presence of the Resurrected Christ for the very first time. (54) Feigning ignorance, Jesus asked them what they were talking about during their journey (24:17). He would have known, of course, but He wished them to express their dashed hopes and weak faith to Him directly. They stood still, looking sad. Cleopas asked if He were the only one in Jerusalem who did not know what had happened (24:18). Jesus persisted in his “ignorance,” prompting Cleopas to describe the situation as he saw it. When he had finished, Jesus chided the two, rather gently, for their disbelief. “O foolish men,” He said, “and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” (24:25-26). He had, after all, predicted His death and resurrection several times, and as Jews, these men should have been well aware of the Scriptural prophecies that pointed to the suffering, dying, and rising Messiah. Patiently, Jesus began to explain again, interpreting in the Scriptures all “things concerning Himself” (24:27). This divine exegesis continued for quite a long time, for although Emmaus was only about seven miles from Jerusalem, the journey on foot would probably have required several hours. (55) As the trio approached their destination, the disciples begged Jesus to remain with them, for He “appeared to be going further” (24:28-29). Their hearts had been touched by this “Stranger's” teachings although they did not realize it consciously. Something deep within them was responding to Jesus' words, and their desire for His presence was growing steadily. Jesus consented to stay, and as He sat with them at the table, He “took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them,” deliberately recreating the structure of the first Eucharistic meal (24:30). (56) At that moment “their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight,” leaving behind two surprised and transformed disciples (24:31).
          How exactly had these two man been changed through their encounter with the Risen Lord? What was different about them? What were they like by the time Jesus had vanished from their sight? Most importantly, they now firmly believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, just as He had promised. They had a strong and unwavering faith in the resurrection, for they had seen Jesus, spoken with Him, listened to His teaching, and received the broken Bread, the Eucharist, from His own hands. How could they be discouraged and depressed any longer? Jesus had proven to them that, while He was not the Messiah they had been expecting, He was much better. His plan was superior to their greatest hopes and dreams, and now, because of His patient explanation, His thorough interpretation of the Scriptures, these two men understood that plan as never before. “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” they asked each other, finally identifying the feeling they could not quite grasp as they had listened to Jesus' teachings back on the road. (24:32). They had been touched emotionally, spirituality, even intellectually, and their hearts were inflamed with a new knowledge, a new hope, a new faith, a new love. As a result, Cleopas and the other disciple turned back. They could think of nothing else but returning to Jerusalem and sharing the wonders of their experience with the other disciples. They longed to become witnesses to the Risen Jesus and His plan of salvation. They were eager to share the good news, literally to preach the Gospel, and to lead others to the transformation they had just experienced. They rose immediately, “that same hour,” and left for Jerusalem, so anxious to spread the word that they traveled by evening, braving Israel's danger-filled roads to humbly return to the companions they had deserted in their dejection. Through their encounter with the Risen Jesus, these two men had been converted from disillusioned and downhearted to enlightened and joyous, from doubtful and depressed to faith-filled and fervent, from prideful defectors to humble, eager witnesses.
          What can we learn about God as we reflect on the story of Cleopas and the other disciple? What does this passage teach us about the Risen Christ? We discover first that Jesus seeks us out, even when we are heading in the wrong direction like the two disciples were as they traveled away from Jerusalem. He accompanies us on our journey through life, patiently waiting for us to recognize Him. We can also see from this text that Jesus, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the primary Teacher and Interpreter of the Bible. Only God can properly open up the Scriptures in such a way that our hearts will burn within us as He imparts His life and light to us through His Sacred Word. All of our interaction with the Bible, then, all our reflection and study, all our meditation and exegesis, must be centered on Christ, Who will show us the best ways to interpret the Scriptures, which are, after all, filled with “things concerning Himself” and His plan for our salvation (24:27).
          As always, we will end our reflections on this text by applying it to our own lives. How is the loving and transforming presence of the Risen Christ reaching out to us as we read and ponder the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? The following questions will help us in our meditations:

1. Do we become disheartened or disillusioned when things do not go as we think they should? Do we feel despair, like Jesus is failing us? Do we run away from difficult situations?

2. Do we recognize Jesus in our lives, or are we blinded by our discouragement or lack of faith?

3. Do we disregard the testimony of others because it is not what we expect? Are we prideful in thinking that we know the best way?

4. Do we spend time with the Scriptures, praying and listening to what Jesus is telling us through His Word? Do we open ourselves up to the Bible so that our hearts burn within us?

5. Do we recognize Jesus in the Eucharist? How might we increase our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament?

6. Do we witness to the good news of Jesus? Are we eager to tell others what Jesus has revealed to us?

7. How have we personally encountered the Risen Christ? How have these meetings transformed our minds, our hearts, and our lives?

A God of Transformations

          In our journey through the Gospel of Luke, we have seen how the dynamic, loving presence of God touched and transformed the life stories of a whole host of Biblical characters. We have watched as minds, hearts, and lives were changed in dramatic ways. Men and women were awakened to God's love. They grew in knowledge and understanding of God's plan for their lives and for the world. They repented of their sins. They learned the nature of true prayer and worship. They were healed spiritually and physically and restored to their families and communities, where they served as witnesses to the power and love of the God Who had renewed their whole existence. Along the way, we have discovered some of the attributes of this God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Who desires us to know and love Him and Who reveals Himself through His words and deeds on each and every page of the Scriptures. Finally, we have seen how God reaches out to us through the Bible and inserts His presence directly into our world as we read and meditate on His Word. He longs to touch and transform our minds, hearts, and lives, just as He touched and transformed those of our Biblical counterparts. What must we do, then, with this new knowledge, these fresh insights, that we have acquired through our reflections on the transforming presence of God as revealed in the Gospel of Luke? We must open ourselves to that presence, to that power and love, to that God Who can and will orchestrate a change in our life story, a change that will draw us into His arms and eventually lead us into an eternity of unchangeable beatitude with Him in our heavenly home.
51. Hahn and Mitch, 68.
52. Barnes.
53. A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (e-Sword, Version 7.9.8, 2008).
54. Henry.
55. Clarke.
56. Hahn and Mitch, 68.

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