When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:30-32)
I’ve always loved this painting depicting the road to Emmaus and can easily imagine myself in this intimate scene. Jesus had been crucified, and the two disciples were mourning the loss of their beloved teacher as they embarked on the seven mile walk to the village. Their grief included deep discouragement because they did not see any victory in the death or believe the bewildering messages about an empty tomb and appearances of Jesus. All they could see was that Jesus had failed in his mission and that perhaps they had been badly deceived.
Then this stranger joined them and appeared clueless about recent events. There is some humor here as Cleophas says to him in essence, “Where have you been?” But Jesus begins quoting scriptures helping them understand that a suffering Messiah was foretold, and their hearts caught fire. All things must have seemed possible. Maybe Jesus was alive!
Who Were They?
The disciple named in Luke’s account was Cleophas. Tradition provides various conjectures about the other disciple. One resource* states the following:
An ancient Christian tradition says Cleophas was the brother of St Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary, and that he was later stoned to death outside his own house for declaring that his nephew Jesus was the Messiah foretold by the prophets. It is believed that the “Mary of Cleophas” who stood by the cross with Jesus’ mother was the wife of the Emmaus disciple. The same tradition says the other unnamed disciple was the youngest son of Cleophas, called Simeon — who later served for 43 years as head of the Judaeo-Christian Church in Palestine and was martyred at the age of 120. Several other candidates for the companion of Cleophas have been suggested, including his wife Mary.
Whoever Cleophas and the other disciple were, they embarked on the way to Emmaus heartsick, discouraged, and unsure about the future. When they finally recognized Jesus, their joy knew no bounds.
Do you relate to these disciples? They did not believe the women’s account that Jesus was alive. They were confused and did not know what to think. We find ourselves struggling with belief, too, when perhaps we should know better. However, we must remember that what has opened other people’s eyes will not necessarily open ours and vice versa. After the resurrection, Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in various ways. He comes to us individually as well, according to each person’s unique faith needs.
Like Cleophas and his companion, we can be so focused on how we think the way things should have gone, that we are unable to recognize Jesus when he comes to us in discouraged places. Like the disciples, in those times we desperately need the truth of scripture. And like the disciples, even if Jesus still appears to be a stranger, let’s joyously invite him in, eager to learn what he wants us to see.