April 30, 2017 3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36–41 1 Peter 1:17–23 Luke 24:13–35
We know that there were two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple. But there has been a lot of speculation about who that other person is.
When I was researching this scripture I found out that this encounter with Jesus is one of the most painted subjects in Christian art. Both the two disciples traveling on the road talking to Jesus and the moment when Jesus breaks bread and the disciples recognize him. Some artists have painted both encounters and some, like Caravaggio, have even painted the same encounter twice. But one element that is always constant is that the two disciples are male.
This is consistent with one of two 2nd century commentaries by different authors who mention who they believe the disciple is. One author states that Cleopas’ companion was a man named Joseph and was Cleopas’ brother. It would make sense that two men were brothers, who would be returning home from the Passover together, for companionship as well as for safety reasons.
Although it is uncertain where the town of Emmaus existed exactly, it was about 7 miles from Jerusalem, which means that it would have taken the disciples about 3–4 hours to walk there at a moderate pace. (That’s about the distance from Salisbury to Sharon) From their conversation we can assume that they would have set out after lunch after they had heard about the encounter that the women disciples had with Jesus at the tomb, and then met Jesus on the road and been talking with him from mid-afternoon until they got to Emmaus. But it was late enough for them to have dinner together, and I’m sure that they would feel that it wasn’t safe for Jesus to be traveling alone, which is why they kindly invited him to stay with them. It doesn’t say in the scripture if they invited him into their home or to an inn to dine together – the important thing was the invitation that was given, accepted, and then there was the blessing of the meal and the revealing of Christ with them.
Last week I said that the purpose of the forty days between Easter and the Ascension for Christ was to give his disciples a chance to understand themselves as disciples of a RISEN Christ. Before his rising Jesus was teaching good and loving morals and mindset, but as the risen Christ he brings the assurance that we are forgiven for our sins and live within the eternal life and power of God. What does the encounter tell us about what Jesus was teaching his disciples on how to be disciples of the risen Christ?
First of all, there is the encounter on the road. It is important to remember that these people were already disciples of Christ and were trying to follow his teaching. They were very sad that they wouldn’t have access to his teaching anymore, but they were still following Jesus. As they are walking they are talking and remembering all that Christ meant to them and how he affected their lives.
That is something that we as fellow Christians should do. We should continue to examine what Christ means to us with each other and find strength in each other’s stories. Sometimes I think that we are too shy or nervous about sharing our own Christ stories even with each other. How are we going to be able to tell people about Christ if we can’t even talk about our experience with him among ourselves? Fellow Christians are people who you can talk with and hone your explanations with. Also we are not all of us like-minded because we all have different Christ experiences – but that’s okay because this teaches us tolerance and open mindedness and we expand our experiences vicariously when you listen to the experiences others.
Then they encounter this stranger who wants to know what they are talking about. The disciples then start to tell this stranger about Jesus. Now, we know that the person is really Jesus, but they don’t. If you think about it – this is the first moment of evangelism after Christ is raised from the dead. These people are telling a complete stranger about the importance of Christ in their lives. But then they get a surprise when Jesus starts to explain to them about Himself and clarifies a few points that they hadn’t thought of.
This I think is a learning curve for the disciples. Here they were thinking that they were going to tell this person all about Jesus but this person had already heard about Jesus. I think that a lot of people have heard about Jesus, but that doesn’t mean that they really know or understand what Christianity is all about. We all know about things that we don’t understand. I know about Russian Easter Eggs – but I don’t understand how they are made – and if I ever get a chance I would like to learn how to make them. I think Christ is like that for many people – they know about him but don’t understand who or what Christ really is or what he really stands for. Also people get Christ mixed up with organized, politicized Christianity. They are not one and the same. Christ didn’t come to set up a geo-political structure – he came to save souls and show us how we can connect to God. That’s who we need to be telling people about.
Also we can learn about what people need from Jesus if we are willing to listen to them – just as the two disciples were willing to listen to Jesus. To recognize the Christ in others is one of the things we need to cultivate as disciples.
Later when Christ breaks bread with the disciples that is a defining moment for our communion with Christ. Christianity takes the spirit of the Luke Communion to say that whenever two or more are gathered in Christ’s name that Christ is sure to be among us. Even though we cannot recognize Christ he is there and will reveal Himself to us in actions of invitation and love. Just as the disciples invited Jesus to be a part of their meal and blessing we need to invite people to be a part of our communion with God and each other.
Now all of this is pretty standard as far as this story goes but I want to tell you about another 2nd century author. The other author names Cleopas’ companion as his wife Mary, and mentions that their son James became a bishop, or priest, of the early Christian Church.
Now that is interesting but also possible. If Mary was Cleopas’ wife, that could be a reason why her name wasn’t mentioned. At the time it was considered to be immodest for a married woman to be named in a story, so as a couple they might not have wanted her name mentioned. We know that some of the disciples were married so why couldn’t these two be a couple? In which case it confirms the opinion of the Pharisees and Temple authorities that Jesus was a radical rabbi who was teaching people whom he shouldn’t be teaching.
Another thing that is interesting about the name Cleopas is that it isn’t Jewish – it’s Greek. Which indicates that even before the early church was evangelizing in Greece there were Greek followers among Jesus’ movement. This could also be why Jesus spends a large amount of time explaining the Jewish scriptures to these two travelers while they are walking. If the two disciples were Greek then they probably didn’t grow up with the Torah tradition or knowledge about who the Messiah would be that most Jewish children would have. Jesus might have wanted to give them a quick history/scripture lesson to confirm for them that he fulfilled all the Messiah criteria from the Jewish faith.
Another point that is possible is that if Cleopas, who was Greek, was traveling with his wife, whose name is Mary, then they might have been a mixed race couple, since MARY was a very common Jewish name, but not a common Greek name at the time. If so that would mean that the Jesus movement was very accepting right from the start of people who were stepping out of the norm.
Of course all of this is scholastic conjecture, but imagine what those unconventional possibilities do for our message of evangelism. Are we supposed to be talking to people who we think should be disciples, or are we reaching out to people who are not following the norm? Sometimes all of us need to step out of what we expect a Christian to be and realize that Christ came for all people, no matter how unconventional they might have been.
Jesus spoke with a lot of different people. Jesus accepted a lot of different people. Can we do the same? We are all walking to Emmaus, and I believe that Christ is always walking with us. But we need to open our eyes to the possibilities that all people we encounter could be Christians. We shouldn’t be shy of reaching out to them and finding out. Maybe we will teach them, maybe they will teach us, but I think, in the love of Christ, we will all be in for a big surprise.