We have no way of knowing very much about the men in the Gospel. Someone called Cleopas and another person, whom we don’t even know their name. We never hear of them again in the Gospel, they are never mentioned, they are not alluded to and they are never spoken about. But even without knowing anything about them, they are very recognisable to us. 2 people deep in conversation, walking, perhaps even secretive and furtive – we know that kind of situation. Further to this they don’t recognise this stranger that has come into their midst, even although they should, they have spent months and years walking with him and talking to him. Are they not observant? Are they “dreamy” kind of people? We know those kind of people, caught up in their own world, their own thoughts and don’t see things, even when they are right in front of their noses. These people are friendly, even although they don’t seem to know the stranger; they invite him in, to talk some more and to share their table. We know these kind of people, although wary are generous and kind. And then eventually the “penny drops”, they realise who he is when the bread is broken at table. We know that situation ourselves, when we realise something, that the pieces fall into place.
We don’t at first seem to know anything about these men and yet as the story goes on what is being described is simple human behaviour, simple human actions, simple human responses, that we can recognise. People’s reactions that are recognisable to us.
It seems to be a story that has 2 tracks: what the 2 companions are doing and what the stranger does and says. But we are not in the dark like the men; we know what is really happening. We know from the start who the stranger is. We know that he knows why these men are downcast and what they are talking about. We know that is Jesus explaining the scriptures to them and we know that it is Jesus doing exactly what he did at the last supper.
As we listen to this story there are many elements that are alive for us and comprehensible to us.
- Then men are walking, journeying, going on. In the Gospel that means just a bit more than, a simple stroll or a getting from one place to another. All through the Gospel the disciples and Jesus are seen as walking, travelling, journeying, on the move. So this appearance of Jesus is set in this context – of these 2 people walking and journeying. Jesus is seen, not just behind closed doors but also in the open, in the middle of life. It speaks of our journey, our walk through life, and the fact that we too are on the move and his presence is in the middle, in the midst of living, the journey and life itself.
- The men are despondent and downcast. We know what that means to be disillusioned, to have our ideals shattered, to have those things we trusted in taken away from us. To be without hope. These men are like us, flesh and blood, who can be disappointed. They say that their hope would be that Jesus would set them free but now he is dead. We recognise that disappointment in faith. Prayers that seem not answered. God who seems to be absent. God who disappoints. Is that not what many say, we put our hope in him but we were disappointed.
- And yet another hope comes to these 2 people in the story that others tell, that Jesus is alive. The stranger gives them hope in what he has to say. At table he shares bread with them, in the same way that Jesus had at the last supper. We recognise that they are men who have faith and hope and have a different future. We recognise in them something that we have in ourselves. Faith and hope and a new life.
Although we don’t know anything about the men in the Gospel. We barely know their names, we know nothing more about them that what is told about them, and in a strange way their journey is our journey. Their walk to Emmaus represents our walk through life. It is a walk that is filled with confusion, disillusionment, despair and incomprehension and yet also is filled with faith and hope. The stranger who walks with them is the one who walks with us. The stranger who talks to them and is invited o sit at their table is the same one we invite to sit at our table. The one who breaks bread with them is the one who breaks bread with us.
The men recognise him at the breaking of bread and they say did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us on the road and explained. Are those men not to be like every man and woman who has felt the same? Have we not felt that same thrill, that clarity, that sense that we know what we are doing and where we are going?