Emmaus: Looking Back and Ahead

We hear about the ‘road to Emmaus’ event in today’s Gospel, Luke 24:1335.

There’s been speculation about why folks didn’t recognized Jesus at first, after Golgotha.

It wasn’t just the ‘road to Emmaus’ thing. Paul lists some of our Lord’s meetings in 1 Corinthians 15:38.

Paul’s list doesn’t mention any of the times Jesus talked with women, I’m not sure why. Maybe Paul had a mental blind spot that way, or he figured he was giving the folks in Corinth enough to think about as it was, or maybe there’s something else going on.

Mary of Magdala, we read about her meeting in John 20:1417, was a bit quicker on the uptake than some, and that’s probably another topic.

About why folks didn’t recognize Jesus, I figure there’s a reason, maybe more than one, but I’m also pretty sure I can’t be sure. Not at this point. That won’t stop me from sharing — not so much my guess, as something I think seems reasonable.

“…Dead as a Door-Nail….”

I think Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a good way to start.

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

“Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did….

“…There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate….”
(“A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens (1843) via Project Gutenberg)

“Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail” — that’s why Scrooge didn’t believe what he saw when Marley came calling after business hours one Christmas Eve. He even tried telling Marley’s ghost that he was a hallucination:

“…You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato….”
(“A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens (1843) via Project Gutenberg)

You know how the rest of the novella goes: Scrooge and Marley’s ghost talk about chains and opportunity, Marley backs out of an open window, and we don’t see him again.

The point of this excerpt is that Marley was dead, and Scrooge knew it.

About today’s Gospel, there wouldn’t be anything wonderful about the Emmaus encounter if the two disciples had been talking with a ghost. They were talking with someone who was very much alive.

In principle, I suppose they could have realized that Jesus wasn’t dead any more.

They knew that two women had a wild story about an empty tomb and angels.

They knew that the story had verifiable details which, on investigation, checked out.

On the other hand, I might not have done any better in their position. Experience tells us that folks who are dead, particularly if tortured and executed as our Lord was, stay dead.

Our Lord: That’s another matter. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

“Before Abraham …”


(From John Martin, via WikiMedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(‘Now that I have your attention ….’)

About one and a half or maybe two millennia before the Golgotha incident, someone named Abram moved out of Ur, changed his name to Abraham, and settled near the east end of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Late Bronze Age Collapse happened a few centuries later. We survived and rebuilt, but lost quite a few records. Since then we’ve seen empires rise and fall, the last pharaoh, and that’s yet another topic. (April 14, 2017; March 12, 2017; July 24, 2016)

A descendant of Abraham was sold as a slave. He wound up running Egypt, saving many lives during a famine. That account starts in Genesis 41:40.

Fast-forward a few centuries to a refugee named Moses having a face-to-burning bush talk with God:

“‘But,’ said Moses to God, ‘when I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” if they ask me, “What is his name?” what am I to tell them?’

6 God replied, ‘I am who am.’ Then he added, ‘This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.'”
(Exodus 3:1314)

Egypt’s ruler learned — the hard way — that ignoring what God says is not prudent, and descendants of Abraham moved back to the east end of the Mediterranean.

More centuries passed, and descendants of Abraham finally got it through their heads that God, the great I AM, is ONE.

Then a Nazarene miracle-worker said, as plainly as possible, “I am God:”

“So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?’ 23

24 Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.’ ”
(John 8:5758)

In a way, it’s a bit surprising that folks didn’t kill him on the spot. They knew what happened when they worshiped anyone or anything besides the God of Abraham, and didn’t realize that Jesus really is I AM.

Our Lord’s own disciples didn’t catch on much faster:

“Philip said to him, ‘Master, show us the Father, 7 and that will be enough for us.’

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”?”
(John 14:89)

Jesus Died — — —


(From “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” used w/o permission.)

Now, back to events we review before every Easter.

Our Lord was railroaded through a trial by the Sanhedrin and taken to Pilate, who sent the case and Jesus to Herod. Herod wanted to see Jesus “perform some sign.” That didn’t work out, Herod mocked our Lord, and it was back to Pilate.

Pilate said that Jesus wasn’t guilty of a capital offense, and tried to get our Lord released after a flogging.

That ended with “the chief priests, the rulers, and the people” telling Pilate to release Barabas instead of Jesus. (Matthew 26:5766; Mark 14:5515:5; Luke 22:6623:18)

I sympathize, a little, with movie critics who said “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) was ‘too violent:’ and that all the blood obscured the film’s message.

Americans have gotten used to nice, clean, ‘decently’ sanitized versions of our Lord’s crucifixion. The typical Hollywood version is arguably less unpleasant than reality: but it’s not real.

Jesus was dead.1 Roman soldiers had been running the execution, and knew the difference between a dead body and someone who had fainted, or was pretending to be dead.

Folks have been bothered by the idea that Jesus could be the Son of God and really die for a very long time. (John 1:15; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 430451, 456478, 595618, 638655)

For anyone else, death and burial would have been the end.

Our Lord’s disciples might have tried returning to normal lives, hoping that the authorities would let them.

— — — and Stopped Being Dead

But Jesus isn’t anyone else.

Two millennia later, we celebrate Good Friday and Easter — because Jesus didn’t stay dead. If that seems unbelievable, it should.

It took a series of meetings and working lunches to convince the surviving 11 that our Lord was really, no kidding, break-bread, eat-a-fish, put-your-hand-in-my-side, ALIVE.

“And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.”

“With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.”
(Luke 24:3031)

“While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’

“They gave him a piece of baked fish;

“he took it and ate it in front of them.”
(Luke 24:4143)

“Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.’ ”
(John 20:2627)

After they’d been convinced that Jesus had stopped being dead, small wonder that all but John chose a painful death, rather than deny that our Lord lives.

They’d gotten a glimpse of the big picture, the reality that our Lord has opened a way into God’s presence.

“Who will condemn? It is Christ (Jesus) who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?…

“…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, 9 nor future things, nor powers,

“nor height, nor depth, 10 nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. ”
(Romans 8:3435, 3839)

John might have made the same decision, but didn’t have the opportunity. Instead, he lived to a ripe old age, in exile on Patmos, and that’s yet again another topic.

The Last Hour — Two Millennia and Counting

Before leaving, our Lord gave standing orders:

11 Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

“Go, therefore, 12 and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,

“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. 13 And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.'”
(Matthew 28:1920)

Two millennia later, those orders haven’t changed.

“Making disciples” isn’t the sort of ‘convert or die’ thing Charlemagne did at Verden, by the way. We’re still cleaning up the mess from that atrocity. (November 6, 2016)

I’m expected to act as if ‘Love God, love my neighbor, everybody’s my neighbor’ is true — and matters. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831, Luke 10:2530; Catechism, 1825)

Loving my neighbor means working for justice and bearing “witness to the truth.” (John 18:37; Catechism, 24712474)

Transcendent Dignity and the Long View

Respect for the “transcendent dignity” of humanity demands that I work for justice — “as far as possible.” (Catechism, 1915, 19291933, 2820)

That involves an inner conversion within each of us: starting with me. (Catechism, 976980, 1888)

I can’t reasonably expect to end hunger, establish a lasting peace, or abolish some great social injustice.

But I can keep passing along the best news we’ve ever had. God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; Peter 1:34; Catechism, 1, 2730, 52)

Part of our job is working with all people of good will, building a better world for future generations. (Catechism, 1917, 19281942, 1825, 1996, 2415; “Laudato si’; “Gaudium et spes“)

We’ve made a little progress. (October 30, 2016; September 25, 2016)

We have a great deal left do do. Humanity has a huge backlog of social issues.

My guess is that we’ll still be working when the 8.2 kiloyear event, Y2K, and Y10K seem roughly contemporary.

But — I’ve said this before,2 and almost certainly will again — the war is over. We won. We’re already in “the last hour,” and have been for two thousand years. This world’s renewal is in progress, and nothing can stop it. (Matthew 16:18; Mark 16:6; Catechism, 638, 670)

More; mostly about Jesus, and acting like God matters:


1 This analysis of our Lord’s torture and execution isn’t an easy read, but worth the effort. My opinion:

2 Humanity, love, and the long view, my take:

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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