Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Luke 24.13-35
3rd Sunday of Easter - Year A

Other texts:


In some ways, this lection is an intrusion in Year A. All of the other gospel readings during the Season of Easter are from John. All of the gospel readings during Pentecost are from Matthew. I don't know why Luke shows up in the midst of John and Matthew, but it does.

On one hand, our text is out of sequence. The events recorded in this text occurred on the day of resurrection -- not two weeks later as people might assume by our use of it on 3 Easter.

On the other hand, this story was told and retold and recorded by Luke for at least two reasons: (1) Jesus' death and resurrection fit God's purpose as revealed in scripture; and (2) The risen Jesus is present in the breaking of bread.

This first appearance of the resurrected Jesus in Luke is unique, although the longer ending of Mark has an appearance to two men (16:12-13). Luke is presenting us with much more than just a resurrection appearance. There are echoes of the LORD's unrecognized appearance to Abraham and Sarah (Gn 18). There are connections with worship -- word and sacrament.

There is a chiastic outline in this section:

A1 The two depart from Jerusalem (vv. 13-14)

B1 Jesus comes to them (v. 15)

C1 They don't recognize Jesus (v. 16)

C2 They recognize Jesus (v. 31a)

B2 Jesus disappears (v. 31b)

A2 The two return to Jerusalem (vv. 33-35)

The two disciples have no control over the middle four events. They only control their leaving and return to Jerusalem -- but what a contrast in those two trips. A slow, sad, hopeless trip from Jerusalem to Emmaus (wherever that may be) and a quick, joyful, hopeful trip from Emmaus to Jerusalem. The seven miles (60 stadia) back to Jerusalem was a lot shorter with their "happy feet ".

Our text contains two scenes: on the road with (the unrecognized) Jesus and at table with Jesus.

ON THE ROAD WITH JESUS

V. 16 with the passive "kept" (ekratounto) raises the question, "Who or what kept them from recognizing Jesus?" Schweizer (The Gospel According to Luke) suggests: "What stands in the way of their faith is their belief in an image of Christ that does not describe Jesus" [p. 373]. Could our expectations of Jesus blind us to the real Jesus?

Could it be a divine passive? Could it be God that kept them from seeing Jesus -- if so, then God created the situation where Jesus could explain scriptures to them. Tannehill (The Narrative Unity of Luke/Acts) combines the divine and human sources of "blindness" when he writes: "God holds human eyes in the sense that God's ways necessarily appear meaningless to humans who understand events in terms of their own purposes and ways of achieving them. A new vision of how God works salvation in the world must be granted to the disciples before a crucified and risen Messiah can be meaningful for them" [p. 282].

God may use our inadequate or narrow understandings to blind us so that God might give us a new vision of God's ways in the world with its related understanding of scripture. Remember that Saul was a very devout and committed believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before he was blinded by the light of Jesus. Could his deeply held, devout Jewish beliefs have kept him from seeing the risen Jesus before? If so, what might that imply about us? Whatever deeply held beliefs that we have, we, perhaps, should take less seriously; and recognize that our faith comes as a gift that we can only humbly accept -- not proudfully claim.

I wonder if the reason they were in Jerusalem might have been to attend the "funeral service" for Jesus. Remember that four days after Lazarus' death, there were still crowds of Jews weeping and mourning with his family over his death and burial (John 11). That might explain the reason they were talking about the events of the past three days with such a sad look (v. 17).

V. 18 presents quite an ironic situation. The two disciples nearly rebuke Jesus for not knowing (ginosko) what's been going on in these days. Yet, we know that they are the ones who really don't know (epiginosko v. 16 = "recognize") what's going on. Their "lack of seeing" involves more than comprehending the resurrected Jesus among them, but also their understanding of the things that have been going on (vv. 19b-24) and their relationship to scriptures (vv. 25-27).

Their report about what has been happening is partially true. "Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet mighty and deed and word before God and all the people" (v. 19).

Jesus referred to himself as a prophet, but in terms of his rejection at Nazareth (4:24); and his death in Jerusalem (13:33). Jesus stresses the persecution of the prophets, which his followers will also face (6:23). Being a "prophet" for Jesus in Luke means rejection, persecution, and death, which is what happened to Jesus.

For the people, they refer to Jesus as a great prophet after raising the widow's son (7:16) -- a great act of miraculous power. It is likely they expected some great miracle from this prophet for the "redemption of Israel" (v. 21). As Tannehill (Luke) writes: "They do not make a connection between Jesus' role as prophet and his violent death" [p. 353]. I would also add that they don't make a connection between Jesus' role as redeemer and his violent death.

The "redemption of Israel" presents a problem. Carl Braaten in his introduction to Pinchas Lapide's book The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, quotes other books of Lapide's:

Christianity is a who-religion, Judaism a what-religion. Or, if you will, Judaism is a religion of redemption; Christianity one with a redeemer. For you Christians what is important is the redeemer, the king; for us it is the kingdom. We Jews know -- under God -- of a kingdom of heaven also, without a Savior-King; but we do not know a Savior-King with the kingdom already having come. Every morning television and the press confirm with terrible clarity that this world is not yet redeemed. [from Jesus im Widerstreit, quoted on p. 14]

and "If it is true that the Messiah of which our ancient prophets spoke has already come, how then do you explain the present state of the world?" [from Israelis, Jews and Jesus, quoted on p. 26]

How do we proclaim the Redeemer-having-come without seeing redemption of Israel (or the redemption of the whole world)? Stated more personally, how do we proclaim the Redemer-having-come through the changes he makes in our lives?

First of all, the main problem expressed by the two disciples is the loss of hope (v. 21). The imperfect of hope (elpizomen) implies that they "were hoping" or "kept hoping" in the past. The crucifixion of Jesus was a loss of hope. The resurrection of Jesus restores hope. He is no longer dead. However, note that just the appearance of the risen Jesus was not enough to restore faith and hope -- they don't even know who he is.

Secondly, Jesus' interpretation of scriptures points to a new understand of redemption -- one that involves a suffering Messiah (v. 26). NOTE the irony that suffering is necessary for the Messiah "to enter into his glory". God's ways are often found in their opposites. Tannehill (The Narrative Unity of Luke/Acts) says:

God's action is perceived especially in those situations and experiences where God's saving purpose surprises, because it is quite contrary to human plans and expectations. These experiences emphasize the continuing tension between divine action and human expectation. These experiences are sufficiently important in the plot to describe the God of Luke-Acts as the God who works by irony. The disciples on the road to Emmaus are about to discover that they are the happy "victims" of the God of irony. [pp. 283-4]

Thirdly, I think that we continue to struggle with the lack of redemption in our world and its challenge to our faith and hope. When I first wrote these notes there was a 15-year-old boy in town with cancer. The cure rate for his type of cancer is 75%. Our prayer chain, and many others, had been praying for him for months. They all expected the prayers and the treatments to work so that this young man might live a normal life-span. They didn't. The prayers changed to asking that the upcoming death would not be painful. Is that part of the tension between divine action and our human expectations? While we perhaps can understand God's way of working through the suffering and death of Jesus, it's harder when it is the suffering and death of children.

Three years later when I revised these notes, there were bombs falling in Yugoslavia. Where is our hope in all of this? Is it possible to talk about redemption in the midst of a war?

After another three years, we were involved in our "war against terrorism". There was war between Israel and Palestine. These are still going on.

Three years later and it continues to our day we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. How do we keep hope alive when peace seems to be an impossible goal for our planet? Did Jesus' coming make any difference in the global scope of things?

In the midst of our grieving and hopelessness -- or of our wealth and prosperity, it can still be difficult to recognize the risen Jesus in our midst. It can still be difficult to find the proper understanding of scriptures. But Jesus doesn't give up on disciples who are "foolish and slow of heart to believe" (v. 25). As I will say more below, all of these tragedies also point out the absence of Jesus.

This statement about being slow to believe comes right after they admit that they know the report from the women that at the tomb "they did not find the body" and that "they had seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive" and others (probably men) attested their report about the empty tomb. These two disciples had heard and knew the right words about the resurrection, but those words hadn't produced a faith that changed their lives.

As much as we have stressed the power of the Word to produce faith (Romans 10:17), it doesn't seemed to have been sufficient in this case -- neither the word from the angels through the women, nor the word from God through scriptures. Something more was needed.

AT THE TABLE WITH JESUS

One way these two scenes are connected is by the two "openings" reported in our lesson. The opening of their eyes (v. 31) so that they can recognize (epiginosko) Jesus in their midst. This took place at the meal. The opening of scriptures that "burned in their hearts" (v. 32). This took place when he spoke to them on the road/way -- but was recognized only with hindsight.

Jesus, the guest, became the host doing the same actions as twice before -- comparing the Greek words:

  24:30  22:19  9:16

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

Should we assume that these two disciples were at one or both of these events and that they recognized Jesus through these familiar actions? Should we assume that these two disciples were not at either event and that the "breaking of bread" is "eye-opening" all by itself -- the power of the sacramental meal? If they were not at the earlier feeding events, can we assume that the readers of Luke would recognize the words and actions from their participation in the Eucharist?

NOTE that both of the previous "breaking bread" events also included teaching. Jesus speaks to the crowd about the kingdom of God (9:11). Unique to Luke, in the upper room, following the meal, Jesus teaches the disciples (22:24-38).

If eating together is a sign of fellowship, Jesus eating with these two disciples (and the others in 24:42-43) restores the fellowship broken by death -- and/or their misunderstanding of Jesus and of scriptures and of God's ways in the world.

NOTE that proper understanding (opened eyes) was not required before having table fellowship with Jesus! It came as a result of the shared meal! What might this imply about "full communion" with other Christians? Should we wait until we have enough understanding and agreement with other before "eating" together? Or should we just celebrate the sacrament together and expect God to work in our lives to help us "see" the com-union that has been given? What about communing children? How much understanding needs to come first? Should sharing the meal come first and intellectual understanding of all the benefits of the sacrament come later?

THE ABSENCE OF JESUS

The only "supernatural" phenomenon seen in Jesus is his disappearance. Otherwise he was just another traveler on the road. I'd promised further comments about Jesus' absence. Here they come. Just this morning I read a chapter in Loving Jesus, by Mark Allan Powell, called "Presence and Absence." He first writes about experiencing the presence of Jesus: "Authentic Christianity is always a reality to be experienced, not just a collection of facts or doctrines to be learned and believed" (p. 52).

And, "The thing is, we don't just admire Jesus: we claim that he is still alive and that we are in an ongoing, living relationship with him" (p. 53).

He summarizes the "real presence" of Jesus as "a reality capable of surprising us" (p. 53) -- something that certainly happened to the two on the road.

He begins the second part of the chapter with:

The Bible teaches that while Jesus may remain present with us in all of the ways we have described, he is no longer with us as he once was, and he is not now with us as he will be. Living with the ambiguity of recognizing this "absence of Jesus" even when appreciating his continuing presence holds an important key for spiritual formation. (p. 54)

A page later he offers a metaphor:

Somebody once asked me, "What does it feel like to be a Christian?" That seemed like an odd question, but I tried to answer. I said, "It feels like being in love with someone who has gone away." They said, "That can't be very pleasant." Well, no, I don't think it's supposed to be pleasant, but it is pretty powerful. I am in love with my wife, and when she is gone, I think about her constantly. I perk up at any news of her and I am energized by the slightest connection (a letter, a phone call). That's what being a Christian "feels like." Of course, it is a confident sadness, and we'll get to more of what that means in the next few chapters, but for now let's just admit this much: we love Jesus as a bride loves her groom, but our bridegroom has been taken away from us, and that makes us sad. The love can be real and powerful and overwhelming, but the absence is real too. And, sometimes, it's just hard. (p. 55, italics in original)

He quotes Luke 22:15-16, 18, 19; Matthew 26:29; 1 Corinthians 11:26 and notes that they all "call attention to the ways in which Jesus will not be present with his disciples when they gather to eat this meal. ... We know that he is risen, but when we eat this meal -- a meal that he once shared with us when he was here on earth and will someday share with us again in the kingdom -- we notice his absence and are more aware of his death than we are of his resurrection. That's how it will be, the Bible says, for people proclaiming his death 'until he comes'." (p. 57).

Using another image:

In the liturgies of many churches, Holy Communion is celebrated explicitly as "a foretaste of the feast to come." the purpose of a foretaste is not to satisfy one's hunger but to make one long for the feast. It seems to me that the more often Christians take Communion, the more impatient they should become. I've been taking Communion almost weekly for about forty years now and my attitude is becoming "Enough with the appetizers! I want the feast!" Of course, we must be grateful for what we have. Grateful, but not satisfied! One purpose of Communion is to feed our impatience, simultaneously reminding us of our Lord's absence and allowing us to experience just enough of his presence to increase this longing in our souls. (p. 58)

I don't know about the rest of you, but I had always wondered about the disappearing Jesus in our text. We, Lutherans, (and others) often stress the "Real Presence" of Christ in the sacrament. The text reminds us that it is also a disappearing presence -- perhaps an even more painful event than the crucifixion -- unexpected and inexpressible hope and joy is restored only to have it fade away again.

I don't think that I can look at this text again and only talk about the presence of the risen Christ in the sacrament. We also experience his absence. He is present, but not as intimately as he once was with his disciples. He is present, but we do not see him as he is (1 John 3:2) or know him as fully as he knows us (1 Corinthians 13:12).

THE DISCIPLES' RESPONSE

The disciple's immediate response after their eyes have been opened is to go and tell others what had happened to them. However, before they have a chance to speak, they have to hear about the appearance to Peter. There is a time to speak and a time to listen. Sometimes resurrection enthusiasm needs some damping. Similarly, as soon as they recognize that it is Jesus who is with them, he disappears. Just when we think we've got Jesus all figured out -- he pulls a new trick.

The two can only report what Jesus did. They can't bring Jesus with them. They can't make him appear before the others. He is not at their disposal. However, there are two parts to their report (v. 35) -- which continue to be at our disposal:

  1. What happened on the road/way = their hearts were burning within them as Jesus spoke to them and as he opened to them the scriptures (v. 32) -- THE WORD -- with Jesus' life, suffering, death, and resurrection as the key to properly understanding it;

  2. How he was made known (ginosko) to them in the breaking of bread -- the means by which their eyes were opened (v. 31) -- THE MEAL.

In previous years, I concluded my thoughts with: I'm of the opinion that the continued celebration of the breaking of bread by the early church was motivated primarily by this (and the other) accounts of the resurrected Jesus eating with the disciples, rather than the upper room event. This also supports our understanding that the meal brings the "real presence" of the risen Jesus to those eating and drinking.

This year I also note that the meal also brings a sense of the absence of Jesus in the world. Powell ends the chapter, "[W]e are in love with a bridegroom who has gone away" (p. 59). The meal both brings Jesus to us and leaves us longing for Jesus.


Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 2215 S 8th Ave., Yuma, AZ 85364
e-mail: brian.stoffregen@gmail.com