The Road to Emmaus story teaches us about the immense gift of the Church and the Eucharist. In living the Catholic life and receiving Jesus at the table of the Lord, our minds are filled with grace and divine wisdom.
Deacon Frederick Bartels
25 April 2020
Our gospel for this Third Sunday of Easter is from Luke chapter 24, where we hear the beautiful story about two disciples who encounter the risen Jesus on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Ultimately it’s a story about the immense beauty of being Catholic, having access to the fullness of truth, and the intimate encounter—communion with—the Lord Jesus that takes place when we receive the divine sacrament of the Eucharist. I know, for now, due to COVID-19, the Mass is closed to attendance by the laity and the Eucharist must be received spiritually rather than physically. But this situation will soon pass. We pray for that.
Luke tells us Emmaus was about 7 miles from Jerusalem. Only one of the disciples is named, Cleopas, who is identified by an early tradition as the brother of Joseph, the husband of Mary. As the disciples walked along on the “first day of the week”—the day of the resurrection of the Lord—they were conversing, debating about recent events in Jerusalem concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Just three days prior Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. We get the sense that they were disheartened, even depressed about what had happened.
Suddenly, while they were walking, “Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.”
Apparently they thought they’d encountered a fellow, unknown traveler on the road to Emmaus. It’s always fascinating to reflect on their inability to recognize Jesus. We’re told they were disciples of Jesus, which implies they knew him well. Why didn’t they recognize him? Luke gives us some clues about why this might have happened.
Jesus askes them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” Cleopas tells Jesus that they were discussing the things that had taken place in Jerusalem, things that had happened to “Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” It seems that, although these two disciples did know something about Jesus, they didn’t understand who he really is, nor did they understand his true mission. It seems they have some wrong assumptions about the Lord Jesus.
They view Jesus as a mighty prophet. Yes, Jesus is a mighty prophet—the mighty prophet—but he’s also much more than that. Jesus is the Son of God incarnate. He is the Lord of the universe who rules over creation. Jesus is the God-man. The Savior.
The disciples then say, “But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” They misunderstand Jesus’ mission. Apparently, they see Jesus as a political power-figure. For them, they hoped the Messiah-king would be the one to depose the Roman empire and reign on a throne in Jerusalem, restoring politically the nation of Israel. But that was not the mission of the Lord Jesus. His mission is found in defeating humankind’s worst enemies—sin, eternal death, and the devil—by dying a saving death on the cross and rising to new life.
Is their misunderstanding of Jesus the reason why they were prevented from recognizing him? I think it’s important to ask, what about people today? Does Jesus remain unrecognized? Yes, on many levels. One of the beautiful, singularly unique things about being Catholic is that we have, in the Church, access to the fullness of truth. Not just ideas and opinions, although there are plenty of those, but the real truth. That’s not the case outside of the Church. We find rays of truth in other religions and religious communities, but not the fullness of truth. The fullness of grace and truth is found only in the Catholic Church.
There’s lots of misunderstandings about the Lord Jesus
Take Mormonism, for example. It includes a tangled polytheistic web of strange ideas about God the Father, Jesus Christ, and other gods. Mormonism severely misunderstands who Jesus Christ is. For example, it teaches that God the Father has a human body. You’ve probably seen pious artwork depicting God the Father as a bearded old man? Mormons take that literally. According to their beliefs, the Father was previously a man on some other world who rose to the level of becoming the god of this universe. At some point in history, he came to earth and impregnated the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus. This makes Jesus a kind of secondary god in their pantheon of divinities. Here’s a quote from the LDS website:
That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of … the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof; … In His nature would be combined the powers of Godhood with the capacity and possibilities of mortality; and this through the ordinary operation of the fundamental law of heredity, declared of God, demonstrated by science, and admitted by philosophy, that living beings shall propagate—after their kind. The Child Jesus was to inherit the physical, mental, and spiritual traits, tendencies, and powers that characterized His parents—one immortal and glorified—God, the other human—woman”Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. , 81
And here’s a quote from Bruce R. McConkie, a Mormon apostle and theologian:
Christ is … the Only Begotten Son … of the Father…. Each of the words is to be understood literally. ‘Only’ means only. ‘Begotten’ means begotten; and ‘Son’ means son. Christ was begotten by an immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers.”Mormon Doctrine, 546-547
Both Islam and Jehovah’s Witnesses hold that Jesus was only a prophet. For them, Jesus is not true God and true man, as we believe as Catholics and as scripture reveals. They view him as a man. An important one, yes, but only a man. In the case of Islam, to say Jesus is God is a blasphemy that deserves death.
Protestantisms In the Plural
What about Protestant communities? First, I have to stress that there’s no one, single united group of Protestant Christians. It’s more accurate to speak of divided, splintered communities—Protestantisms in the plural, instead of Protestantism in the singular, which means a wide diversity and even opposition in doctrine is common. Although their theology is closer to ours, and they are our Christian brothers and sisters provided they’re validly baptized, their theology nevertheless contains errors about Jesus in terms of his divine deeds and words. Protestants do not believe Jesus founded a specific, definite, and visible Church with authority on St. Peter, even though it’s clear that he did in Matthew chapters sixteen and eighteen.
Generally speaking, Protestants do not believe Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist at the Last Supper through which he is truly and wholly present in his glorified body sacramentally, under the signs of bread and wine. They do not take Jesus literally when he said in John 6 that those who do not eat his flesh and drink his blood have no life in them. In other words, Protestants generally believe the Eucharist is purely symbolic. They do not recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. And, of course, they lack apostolic succession and validly ordained priests, which means they cannot confect the Eucharist even if they intend to do so.
Then there’s notions like “The Prosperity-God Jesus,” which goes like this: if you have faith in the Lord Jesus, you’ll be financially blessed. Everything in your life will fall into order. Could that be true? Nope. That’s not the gospel. Recall that Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master” (John 15:20). What kind of life did our Master live? He did not live as an earthly king seated on a throne. He chose a life of poverty and became the servant of all. He was stripped of even his robes, crowned with thorns, and crucified.
Do I Know Who Jesus Really Is?
There’s lots of other misunderstandings about Jesus I could mention. In any case, it’s perhaps most important to ask ourselves: “Do I really know who Jesus is?” Or, have I projected my own ideas onto him? Do I remake Jesus according to my own wishes? Do I really live as a Catholic in full communion with the Church? Do I believe everything the Church officially teaches, knowing that it is, in fact, the teaching of Christ?
Returning to our Emmaus story, Jesus admonishes the two disciples for their lack of belief, saying, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Apparently, these two disciples had missed the whole point of Jesus’ mission. So, Jesus fills them in about how all the OT scriptures point to him and reveal his purpose and mission.
And what happens next? This is the really interesting part. The disciples invite Jesus to stay with them. “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him” Jesus broke bread with them, as he did with the apostles at the Last Supper. In the breaking of the bread—the Eucharist—these disciples receive the whole Christ sacramentally. They are made one with Jesus, brought into intimate communion with him. Then, their eyes were opened. They recognized him. In the words of Vatican II, when we receive the Eucharist we consume Christ, our “mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 47).
The Road to Emmaus and Connections to the Mass
Notice how the Emmaus story parallels what happens in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. We first receive the Word of God during the Liturgy of the Word. Our minds are enlightened with heavenly things and divine teaching. Then, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ is made present under the signs of bread and wine. We break bread and receive the risen Lord, who comes into us to remake us to become like him by granting us a share in his divine nature. Now, our minds are not simply enlightened, but filled with his divine grace and presence. Our bodies come into contact with the body of Christ. We are joined—made one—in the most intimate manner possible here below, to the Lord Jesus who is Life Itself.
As Catholics we are truly blessed with the fullness of truth and grace. Let us go back to Jerusalem, so to speak, as did the two disciples, with hearts burning. Let us share all the mighty deeds and words of the Word made flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ, with those we meet along the way. Let us live as a eucharistic people—with minds filled with grace, as a people in intimate communion with the Lord, as the physical and mystical body of Christ in the world, above the world, and beyond the world.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.