Today’s blog post comes from McGill Alumni Josiah Henderson-Zwicewicz.
Luke 24:13-35 tells the story of two disciples on the road to the village of Emmaus. At the beginning of the story, the two disciples are sad and confused. They had hoped that Jesus “was the one to redeem Israel” (v. 21); but they have heard that he was crucified, and can only conclude that their hope was in vain. They have heard the reports of the women disciples who had that morning discovered Jesus’ tomb empty, and of Peter and the other men who went to see for themselves. But they cannot imagine what the reason for the body’s absence can be.
As they talk together about these things on the road, the risen Jesus appears alongside them. The disciples’ “eyes were kept from recognising him” (v. 16). Like us, the disciples cannot really understand the resurrection of Jesus or recognise who he is without his help and instruction. What good news it is, then, that Jesus is alive!
Since his ascension, all kinds of people have claimed Jesus’ authority for all kinds of causes. In our churches, Jesus is portrayed by some as an inclusive and free-thinking innovator, and by others as a hard-line traditionalist. In our society, Jesus is portrayed by some as a radical revolutionary, by others as a moderate liberal, and by still others as a family-values conservative. In the academy and in popular culture, novel theories about Jesus abound. Jesus is claimed as a prophet of Islam, of the Bahá’í faith, of secular humanism, etc. In the midst of this profound confusion about Jesus’ identity, the resurrection means that Jesus is able to speak for himself. Because the risen Jesus chooses to reveal himself to and through the Church, the world can do better than guess at who Jesus is and what he means.
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (V. 27) On the road to Emmaus, Jesus reveals himself to the two disciples through the Old Testament Scriptures. This shows us at least two things: (1) That Jesus sees in “all” the Old Testament “things concerning himself” indicates that the primary purpose of the Old Testament is to reveal Jesus. Even though, superficially, the Old Testament doesn’t even seem to mention Jesus, on his authority the Church claims that it is actually all about Jesus. (2) That Scripture is the first medium the risen Jesus chooses to reveal himself to his disciples indicates the authority that the Bible has in the Church. Jesus gives his own personal authority to the words of Scripture, so that through Scripture we can learn who Jesus really is. In the Church, Scripture is read and preached publicly for this purpose, to inform and correct our understanding of Jesus, and to bring our thinking about Jesus under his own authority. When we read something about Jesus in Scripture, the risen Jesus is telling us that thing about himself.
Of course this goes for both Old and New Testament. On the day Jesus revealed himself to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the New Testament had not yet even begun to be written, but this story does give us a strong hint at the nature and authority of the New Testament.
When Jesus and the two disciples arrive at Emmaus, Jesus pretends he is going farther, but allows the disciples to convince him to stay with them for the night. “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.” (Vv. 30-31) What finally opens the eyes of the disciples to Jesus’ true identity is the sight of Jesus taking bread, blessing it, breaking it and giving it to them. The disciples had seen Jesus do this once before (or had heard about it from the apostles), at his last supper. There, according to Luke 22:18, “he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” By reminding the disciples of his own words and actions (in this case, his words and actions at the last supper), the mysterious stranger reveals to the disciples that he is the same Jesus who taught and who healed in Galilee and in Jerusalem, now risen from the dead. When we remember Jesus’ words and actions by reading the Gospels, Jesus also opens our eyes to see who he really is.
Jesus is alive and continues to reveal himself to his disciples here and now. Because Jesus is opening up the Scriptures to us as we journey through life, we will be able to say with the two disciples in this story, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (V. 32)
When Jesus reveals himself to the two disciples through the Scriptures and through the memory of his own words and actions, their response is to get up immediately and bring the good news to the other disciples, who are still confused about the missing body. So also, as Jesus reveals himself to us through both Old and New Testament, our continual response should be to share with others what Jesus is sharing with us. The risen Jesus reveals his identity to the Church through the Scriptures, and reveals himself to the world (deeply confused about Jesus as it is) through the witness of the Church.