Today’s Gospel, Luke 24: 13-35, takes place in the afternoon of Easter. Two of Jesus’ disciples were walking to Emmaus, a village about seven miles away from Jerusalem. The Risen Jesus joins them but they do not realize that it is Jesus, “their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him” (Lk 24:16).
One of the disciples is identified as “Cleopas.” When the stranger asks what things they are talking about, they describe Jesus as “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people; how our chief priests and leaders delivered Him up to be condemned to death and crucified Him” (Lk 24:19-20).
The disciples confess, “We were hoping that He was the one who would redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21). Cleopas admits that some women had been to His tomb and found it empty and a vision of angels told them that He was alive. The stranger responds: “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into His glory” (Lk 24:25-26).
Jesus proceeds to open the passages of the Old Testament that concern His death and Resurrection: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures” (Lk 24:27).
When they came to their destination, they urge Him to eat with them: “When He was at table with the, He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them” (Lk 24:30). Luke tells us: “Their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished out of their sight” (Lk 24:31).
Why did Jesus need to appear to His disciples? The Acts of the Apostles tell us: “He presented Himself alive after His Passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking of the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Why?
Jesus’ self-giving of Himself on the Cross is central to our redemption yet His Resurrection is not just an attachment to His death. It completes what He began in dying. St. Paul declares: “He rose again for our justification” (Rom 4:25).
Jesus could have simply ascended to the Father, as one who has finished a difficult task goes home. The Spirit could have been given to us to help us live Jesus’ teachings. But His disciples had formed a deep personal bond with Jesus. They needed to be assured that Jesus was really alive and that their relationship continued.
St. Thomas Aquinas explains that the Resurrection needed to be known: “Christ’s Resurrection is for the common salvation of all so it came to the knowledge of all; yet not so that it was directly manifested to, but only to some, through whose testimony it could be brought to the knowledge of all” (3a. 55, 1, ad 2).
It was important that the disciples see Jesus after the Resurrection so that they would not think that He was dead. St. Thomas notices that He appeared more often on the first day than later. Thomas thinks the reason was to encourage them to believe: “The disciples were to be admonished by many proofs to accept the faith in His Resurrection from the very outset” (3a. 55, 3, ad 3).
Thomas observes “He appeared to them at first in order to comfort them” (3a. 55, 3, ad 4). Jesus’ appearances enabled the apostles to witness to other disciples that He was risen: “The apostles were able to testify to the Resurrection even by sight, because of their testimony of their own eyes they saw Christ alive, whom they had known to be dead” (3a. 55, 2, ad 1).
When Jesus showed Himself to the disciples, they knew that He was really alive: “In order to manifest the truth of the Resurrection, it sufficed for Him to appear several times before them, to speak familiarly to them, to eat and drink and to let them touch Him” (3a. 55, 3). Thomas asserts that Jesus kept the scars of His wounds to confirm the hearts of the disciples in the Resurrection (3a. 54, 4).
Thomas has today’s Gospel in mind when he reflects that, at times, Jesus did not immediately reveal Himself:
“Christ’s Resurrection was to be manifested in the same way as Divine things are revealed. Divine things are revealed to men in various ways, according as they are variously disposed. Those who have minds well disposed, perceive Divine things rightly, whereas those not so disposed perceive them with a certain confusion of doubt or error… He appeared in another shape to those who seemed to be already tepid in their faith… as if He were a stranger” (3a. 55, 4).
The disciples did not readily believe that He had risen, even when angels announced it. In today’s Gospel, the two disciples admit that some women had announced that He had risen. Jesus charged them with being “foolish and slow of heart to believe” (Lk 24:25).
The Acts of the Apostles speaks of “many proofs.” Thomas points out:
“[Jesus showed] that it was a true Resurrection… by offering His body to be handled… He shows that it was identically the same body which He had before, by showing them the scars of the wounds… by eating and drinking with His disciples… by replying to His disciples questions and greeting them when they were in His presence, showing that He both heard and saw … in the works of the intellectual life by their conversation with Him and discoursing on the Scriptures” (3a. 55, 6).
Thomas Aquinas maintains that the “proofs” were not based on reason which “would not be efficacious for establishing faith in the Resurrection which is beyond human reason” (3a. 55, 5).
Rather the “proofs” were from the Old Testament, as see in today’s Gospel: “It was from the authority of the Sacred Scriptures that He proved to them the truth of His Resurrection, which authority is the basis of faith, when He said to them: ‘All things must be fulfilled that are written in the Law, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning Me’” (Lk 24:44) (3a. 55, 5).
The Risen Jesus’ appearances were brief. Thomas notes: “He was not desirous of living with them constantly as He had done before, lest it might seem that He rose to the same life as before” (3a. 55, 3).
Although Jesus would not be present with the disciples as He had been, He would continue to be present with them in a new way, as we can see from today’s Gospel.
While Jesus interprets the Scriptures, the two disciples experience their “hearts burning” within them (Lk 24:32) but they still do not recognize Him. Thee disciples insist that He join them for a meal. They recognize Him when He breaks the bread.
Raymond Brown, a great Biblical scholar, concedes that Jesus may have had a “characteristic way” of breaking the bread but “more is involved.” Brown states that whether “breaking the bread” is used as a noun or a verb, “it is generally thought to refer to a Eucharistic meal” (Raymond E. Brown, S.S., A Risen Christ at Eastertime, 49).
Thomas Aquinas teaches:
“This sacrament was appropriately instituted at the supper, when Christ conversed with His disciples for the last time… For Christ is Himself contained in the Eucharist sacramentally. Consequently, when Christ was going to leave His disciples in His physical presence, He left Himself with them under the sacramental species…” (3a. 73, 5).
Raymond Brown reflects, “The Christians of Luke’s time had the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread – those same means of knowing the Lord… In the matter of encountering the risen Jesus with faith, a past generation is not more privileged than the present one” (Raymond E. Brown, S.S., A Risen Christ at Eastertime, 50).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. In this case, it is the third part of the Summa, questions 55 and 73, and various articles. If the reference is a reply to an objection that had been raised earlier, the reference will offer “ad…” with the number of the objection.