Is the event on the road to Emmaus a sign for our times? I am starting to believe that Jesus has kept certain things hidden from us until we are ready to understand. In the last few weeks, while revisiting the account of the Gospel, an idea began forming in my mind. “Roads often symbolize history” I thought. For instance, the road from Jericho to Jerusalem seems to represent the history of Israel since Jericho was the first city conquered by the Israelites and Jerusalem was the last.
If we see the road to Emmaus as a representation of the history of the Church, this apparition of Jesus deserves to be examined. It may very well be a marker, a representation of an event that was still in the future for the Church. The event at Emmaus happens the Sunday immediately after the Crucifixion. Follow me to Emmaus to see if we can unwrap this gift from Heaven.
The road is history, the inn is the Church, the bread Jesus blesses is the Eucharist. Cleopas is one of the disciples, the other one we do not know for sure but many believe he is young Mark. These two disciples represent the Church in the smallness of their number but more so in their inner disposition towards truth, and their obvious love for their Master that it is shown in their grief.
The order of events shown by the Gospel is:
- The disciples are walking away from Jerusalem
- They are talking about losing their Master
- Their Master shows up and engages them in conversation but they are supernaturally blinded to His identity
- Master shows them the real meaning of their experience by quoting the Scriptures
- They are not allowed to recognize Him by his manner of teaching
- As they approach the inn, Jesus feels or appears to be “inclined to leave them there and continue on the road”
- They want Him to stay and remind Him that it is getting dark
The walking away from Jerusalem may be an act of self preservation. The name “Israel” means “the struggle belongs to God” but for all the disciples can tell, God has lost that struggle. The Cross is still for them a brutal reminder of their defeat. Later, when they understand the mystery, the Cross will become a symbol of the Christian victory: “In Hoc Signo Vinces” (under this sign you shall triumph) was shown centuries later to Constantine before a crucial battle. Imagine how small and oppressed the Church feels at this point, only two days after the Crucifixion!
That sense of loss and grief is reflected in the conversation between both disciples. The “traveler” now walking along with them senses that grief and asks: “What are you talking about?” We know the traveler is Jesus but the disciples don’t. They are blind to the identity of Jesus. In a way this scene reminds us that Jesus is always walking with the Church as we walk the road of history. Jesus also presents Himself to someone in the Church in a constant dialogue. He teaches but he also works through some saints questioning and teaching the disciples of each age (St. Francis comes to mind) to enrich us or correct our course. His presence in the Church throughout history cannot be denied. He promised he would not abandon us and He has kept that promise. One important detail here is the loss of the Church that apparently happened after Jesus was arrested. Jesus takes the whole business of the Cross upon Himself and allows his supporters to flee: “Of those that You gave Me, have I lost none.” (John 18:9)
The situation points at the innermost sense of the parousía when Christ is there but appears not to be. The same happens when the storm wind and violent billows seem to sink Peter’s boat. Jesus is sleeping, he is not there, he is not struggling with the disciples to keep the boat afloat … but He was there all the time. The storm, the wind, the danger are but another lesson. This time He is teaching in a less dramatic manner as He walks along with the disciples on their way to Emmaus. Parousia is presented to us like His “presence” and it seems to be a sort of invisible presence because, according to the first disciples, we need a sign to recognize it:
“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3)
As they approach the inn, Jesus feels or appears to be “inclined to leave them there and continue on the road” but that would be contrary to His promise to stay always with us … So, why is that phrase there? Jesus is telling us there that he has an urgent task to complete but He wants us to be there when he arrives “to drink the fruit of the vine in the Kingdom of Heaven” in that Mass far in the future, the Mass of His triumph over death and evil. Jesus is moving the Church forward but what He can do alone without any trouble, He has decided to do it in communion with us. We do not have the power to fly to the end of history. Jesus patiently takes us along. The struggle belongs to Him but we must truly struggle along with Him.
Does this passage of the Gospel represents our time prophetically? I think we can answer yes to that question because of some peculiar characteristics of the parable that is unfolding before us. See how the disciples arrive to the inn at Emmaus (which is a figure of the Church) and return to Jerusalem the next day after “spending the night” at the inn.
They return to Jerusalem and learn that Jesus has appeared to Peter as well. The curious part is that Jerusalem is also a figure of the Church triumphant. The disciples turn back after a night at the inn. This may very well represent a turning point tome in the future when the Church, moved by a renewal of the faith among its humblest members, returns to its roots repenting of this grievous post-conciliar nightmare we are presently enduring. This too shall pass but first we have to meet the Master and allow Him to instruct us with unadulterated truth. Then we can go back honestly to the Holy Tradition that the Apostles gave us.
This particular part of the parousia happens when it is getting dark, at the end of the day, symbolizing perhaps the end of the age.
“As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ at the same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:28-35)
The Church was founded upon the sign of the Resurrection. That was predicted by Jesus in Matthew 16:4,
“An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”
But the mysterious admonition was also used in Matthew 12:40 showing what the “sign of Jonah” was all about:
“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
On the road to Emmaus Jesus builds a complex parable with many facets. One of those facets—in my very incomplete and ignorant opinion— is this oblique but clear picture of the parousia that emerges when we look at this passage with our prophecy eyeglasses.
‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Yes, the same Simon Jesus called “son of Jonah” when founding His Church as related in Matthew 16. When this night is over I daresay we will see the emergence of a new and more glorious Church militant led by the long promised Pastor Angelicus, a successor of Peter that will serve the truth in all its splendor.
May we all live to see that day. Maranatha.