"... two of Jesus' disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred."
This Gospel story is one of the most compelling narratives in all of Scripture. Two disciples are walking down the dusty road to the village of Emmaus. Their talk concerns the crucified Jesus. I imagine them walking slowly, trudging along, depressed by the events they witnessed this week in Jerusalem. Their words come slowly like their pace, "I can hardly believe it. He's gone." ... "What do we do now?" ... "Peter should have done something." As they amble along a stranger comes up from behind and says, "I'm sorry, but I couldn't help overhearing you. Who are you discussing?" They stop and turn. Other travelers make their way around them as the three stand in silence. Finally one of them asks, "Where have you been the last few days? Haven't you heard about Jesus of Nazareth?" And he continues to tell Jesus all that has happened.
What a fascinating scene two sad, confused and sincere disciples telling the story of how all is lost. And God in disguise listens patiently, his wounded hands buried deeply in his robe. They say, "We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”
"We were hoping" … now there is a phrase we all can understand.
How often have you heard a phrase like that?
• We were hoping ... that the doctor would have better news.
• I was hoping ... that she would marry me.
• We were hoping ... our jobs wouldn’t be eliminated.
Those are words painted gray with disappointment. What those two disciples wanted didn’t happen. We know that feeling. What we wanted didn’t come; what came we didn’t want. The result is always the same: shattered hope. We’ve all been there. We know what they felt like that day as they trudged up the road to Emmaus dragging their sandals in the dust, wondering:
"What kind of God would let me down like this?"
When we are in a state of confusion and despair like them. God could be the fellow walking next to us, and we wouldn't know it. You see the problem with our two heavy-hearted friends was not a lack of faith, but a lack of vision. Their petitions were limited to what they could imagine – an earthly kingdom. They never dreamed God had something bigger in mind – the salvation of all mankind.
You have to wonder if sometimes God's most merciful act is his refusal to answer some of our prayers the way we expect.
Our two friends walking on the road to Emmaus that day hoped for Israel to have a great earthly kingdom. But that goal was not God’s goal. We should not be too hard on the two men on the road that day. We are like them so often, unaware of what God is trying to accomplish. We often try to limit God by our preconceived ideas and misunderstandings.
Our problem is not so much that God doesn't give us what we hope for as it is that we don't know the right thing for which to hope.
We are so often like the those disciples that day who missed what Jesus was doing. Did you notice how Jesus reacted to these two bewildered disciples who missed what Jesus was doing by dying on the Cross? He chastised them. "Oh, how foolish you are! You are slow of heart to believe.”
"You are slow of heart." What does Jesus mean – slow of heart to believe?
When Jesus expresses his disappointment, he does not talk about their minds or their intelligence. He does not call them ignorant or stupid. Instead, he talks about the state of their hearts. For Jesus, it’s all about the state of your heart. He was telling them to stop trying to figure it all out intellectually and to start seeing it with their hearts. He wants them to see the love! The love God poured out on humanity through his death on the Cross.
He is telling them you missed the point! It’s all about LOVE, not defeat. And then the scripture passage says, Jesus showed them how the scriptures (how the Bible) reveals that God would express his love for us – this way – from the very beginning.
That day it says that after these disciples encountered the risen Christ their hearts went from slow to believe to burning – to being on fire with faith. When he vanished from their sight that day, they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?"
Maybe there is a hint for us in this line about what this reading means for us.
If we want to have a heart burning with excitement for God, maybe we need to break open the scriptures. When was the last time you sat with the scriptures and allowed them to open your heart?
Jesus calls us to see life with the eyes of the heart:
• A heart burning with the fire of faith.
• A heart burning within for justice.
• A heart that is red-hot to share the Good News of the scriptures, to share the Good News we know and others are desperate to hear.
If you are feeling the desire to have an encounter with Jesus as those two disciples on the Emmaus Road did, then maybe you should set aside some time each day to meet Jesus in the scriptures.
If you are a young adult, we have a Bible study group here on Wednesday nights, come encounter Jesus in the scriptures. Our “Connection to Christ” small groups also use the Scriptures as a foundation for their discussions, and you are all invited to join a C2C group. There are great daily meditation books that help us know the scriptures; like Magnificat, or Living with Christ, or The Word Among Us. (www.magnificat.com) (www.livingwithchrist.us) (www.wau.org)
The message of the story of the Road to Emmaus is this.
• If you are longing to meet Jesus ...
• If want to have a personal encounter with Christ
• If your faith feels a bit slow of heart right now and you need some fire.
• If you want to get your heart burning within.
Then it’s time to open the scriptures.