This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of Easter and our gospel is the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. “ As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. 29 But they urged him, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.” (Luke 24:28-29)
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”). Just as earlier Jesus had received hospitality from Zacchaeus (19:5, 9)., so also now he accepts the hospitality of the two with whom he had traveled. 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:
A minimalist reading of the text sees the liturgical language acting only as the catalyst for the recognition of Jesus and falls short of an Eucharistic understanding that 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).
Image credit: James Tissot, 1900, The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road (Les pèlerins d’Emmaüs en chemin), Public Domain