Emmaus: at table

At The Table With Jesus The disciples are struck by what Jesus has said and ask him to stay with them even has he appears to be traveling on. Alan Culpepper (479) offers an interesting insight into the simple passage (v.28):

Jesus’ first action is probably significant both thematically and theologically. He “walked ahead as if he were going on.” On the surface it is a gesture of social deference and polish. It implies that Jesus was not really going further but that he would not impose on the disciples to offer him hospitality. In Near Eastern customs, the guest was obligated to turn down such an invita­tion until it was vigorously repeated (see Gen 19:2-3). Theologically, Jesus’ action demonstrates that he never forces himself upon others. Faith must always be a spontaneous, voluntary response to God’s grace. Thematically, the action is sugges­tive, because all the way through the Gospel Jesus has been going further. When the people at Naz­areth rejected him, Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way” (4:30). When the crowds wanted to prevent Jesus from leaving them, he responded, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also” (4:43). He preached in synagogues and with­drew to desert places to pray (4:44; 5:16). In Galilee he was constantly on the move, and from Luke 9:51 until 19:44 he is on the way to Jerusalem. The Lukan Jesus, therefore, was always going further, and in the book of Acts the gospel of Jesus will spread “to the ends of the earth.”

The invitation to share a meal should be a familiar scene to one who has read Luke. The actions recall the pattern of ministry to a household in which Jesus had in­structed his disciples (see 10:7, “Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you”; cf. 9:4). Just as earlier Jesus had received hospitality from Zacchaeus, so also now he accepts the hospi­tality of the two with whom he had traveled (cf. 19:5, 9). What is unusual here is that the guest becomes the host. Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. The four verbs are Jesus’ signature, which the disciples (or at least the readers) may remember from the feeding of the five thousand (9:16) and the last supper (22:19). Brian Stoffregen offers a comparison of these three events:

Last Supper
taking labon labon labon de
the bread ton arton ton arton tous pente artous
blessing eulogesen eucharisesas eulogesen autous
breaking klasas eklasen kataklasen
giving epedidou edoken edidou
to them autois autois tois mathetais

A minimalist reading of the text sees the liturgical language acting only as the catalyst for the recognition of Jesus, defers from an Eucharistic understanding, and emphasizes hospitality and table fellowship as the modality of Christian behavior. But the long understanding of the early church and beyond is that hospitality and fellowship are true, as is the liturgical language, but that it is also a Eucharistic celebration rooted in the recognition of Jesus as Lord and Savior. In this “breaking of the bread” (v.35; an early name for the Eucharist: Acts 2:42, 46) they recognize him; immediately he disappears from their physical sight.

The scene ends with the disciples recalling how their hearts “burned” within them while Jesus was talking with them and interpreting the Scriptures to them. The Emmaus story, therefore, sets before the reader two sorts of responses: One may either be “slow of heart to believe” (v. 25) or know the joy of those whose hearts burn within them. The burning hearts were the result of both Jesus’ words and the interpretation of Scripture (see v. 32). Earlier, Jesus had said that he had come to bring fire to the earth (12:49-50); now the fire has been kindled (cf. Jer 20:9; Acts 2:3).

The Community Rejoined and United The final movement of the Emmaus story returns the two disciples to Jerusalem and serves as a transi­tion to the appearance there. Jerusalem is the focus of Luke’s geographical scheme throughout Luke and Acts. The Gospel begins and ends in Jerusalem, and the journey to Jerusalem domi­nates the record of Jesus’ ministry. In Acts the mission of the church begins in Jerusalem, and Paul returns there at regular intervals.

The experience of the risen Lord cannot be held in. It must be shared, proclaimed (Acts 4:20). By the time the two travelers return to Jerusalem, the good news is already known. Jesus has appeared to Simon Peter, the leader of the Twelve; this appearance is not described in the Gospels. Luke closes his narration of the story with a reminder for his readers of its special significance for them: recognition came in “the breaking of bread.”

A Final Thought In his assessment of the resurrection appearances and of the gospel narratives which have preserved these experiences, Bas Van Jersel suggested that these texts were intended not only to inform would be believers concerning the fact of Jesus-risen but also as an interpretation of his resurrection for the life of the disciple. In other words, accounts such as the one recorded in today’s gospel help us to understand that faith in the resurrection is not confined to a past event; nor is it relegated solely to a future moment when we also be raised by God from death. Rather, the resurrection appearances represent the church’s understanding concerning the permanent presence of the risen Lord with us now. How and in what manner do we experience him among us? What are the implications of his presence? How must it influence our faith? our life style?

Matthew, in his gospel, told his readers that they would find and experience Jesus in the hungry when they fed them; in the thirsty when they gave a drink of water; in the stranger to whom they gave a welcome; in the naked whom they clothed, in the ill whom they cared for and in the prisoner whom they visited. In another passage, the evangelist assured his contemporaries of an experience of Jesus’ presence whenever and wherever two or three would gather together in prayer (Matthew 25:35-36, 18:20). For his part, the fourth evangelist offered the assurance of Jesus’ abiding presence in the gift of the Spirit. Like Jesus, the Spirit would teach the disciples, remind them of his words and works, guide them to the truth and be with them always (John 14:16).

In today’s gospel, Luke reminds believers that the ultimate encounter with the permanent presence of the risen Jesus comes in the breaking open of the Word and in the Breaking of the Bread which is the Eucharist.


Luke 24:28 gave the impression: the verb prospoieō means “to pretend.” While one should always be careful in speculating the divine intent, it does seem as though the two disciples were being push to a decision point with the impression he was continuing on as the catalyst.

Luke 24:31 vanished: the word aphantos (an adjective; from which we derive phantom) means became invisible.

Luke 24:32 hearts burning: kaiomenē is used in classical Greek literature to describe intense emotional responses. Interestingly, in the LXX the verb is often used to indicate the presence of the Lord (Ex 3:2, Dt 4:11; 9:15; Ps 43:9; Sir 48:1; Isa 30:26; 62:1).


  • G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) 400
  • R. Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) 475-83
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) 840-51
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) 392-400
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris(Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) 978-9
  • Eugene LaVerdiere, Luke in New Testament Message, Vol 5 (Collegeville, MN; Liturgical Press, 1980) 282-8
  • Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) 355-59
  • John J. Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995) 73-75.
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
  • Bas Van Jersel, “The Resurrection of Jesus” in The New Concilium (Herder and Herder, New York: 1965)


  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)
  • David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996)

Scripture Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©

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