Gospel Reflection Third Sunday of Easter
Luke 24: 35-48
Extraordinary things can happen if we open ourselves to the presence of a stranger on the road of life. That is one of the elements in today’s gospel that forms the conclusion to the Emmaus story. When I was a student at Trinity College in Dublin researching Luke’s depiction of women in the Acts of the Apostles, I would often take a detour on my way home to visit the National Gallery of Ireland. Velázquez’ remarkable oil painting, Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus captured and held my attention. The viewer is confronted with a painting within a painting. The kitchen maid pauses from her tasks to listen, through the space between kitchen and dining area, to the conversation between Jesus and his table companions. Jesus’ hosts have not yet recognised the companion they had encountered on the road from Jerusalem. Velázquez seems to be suggesting that the young servant woman in the foreground, a woman from another place and another time, has sensed what they have yet to discover. Like the servant woman, we might attend to this graced encounter, its prelude and its aftermath.
Imagine two dejected disciples (Cleopas and possibly his wife) on the road from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus. On their journey, they encounter Jesus who has been raised. At first, they fail to recognise him. Their sadness at his death has blinded them to what is happening before their very eyes. He engages them in conversation and holds up a metaphorical mirror to their experience of loss and grief. Their hearts “burn” within them as he opens to them the meaning of their sacred scriptures. They invite him to share a meal with them and their eyes are opened: they recognise him in the breaking of the bread. Jesus then disappears from their midst. They cannot contain the joy they have experienced in realising that he is alive.
Cleopas and partner return immediately to Jerusalem to share the good news with the other disciples. All the assembled disciples experience powerfully the presence of Jesus in their midst. They share a meal with him. He opens their minds to understand the scriptures. Everything falls into place. They not only understand Jesus’ death and resurrection in the light of the scriptures. They now know that they will be “clothed with power from on high” to exercise their role as witnesses to this great mystery, and to preach forgiveness to all peoples “beginning from Jerusalem”.
Luke will open his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, with the story of the risen One sending the disciples to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. We who re-member these events in every Eucharistic celebration are both the recipients and the bearers of that message. If we allow our hearts to “burn” within us, we too may recognise the Risen One “on the road” and become his witnesses to the ends of the earth, engaging and even hosting the “strangers” we meet along the way.