First reading Acts 2:14,22-33
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 15(16):1-2,5,7-11
Second reading 1 Peter 1:17-21
Gospel Luke 24:13-35
“Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem…” These two disciples are not of the Twelve disciples, but from Jesus’ much wider group of followers. What are they doing? They’re getting out of town. Perhaps they are fleeing Jerusalem in fear after the brutal execution of their master. Or perhaps they are simply tourists heading home after the Passover festival in Jerusalem, just like the many caravaners who head home after our local Easter in the Country festival. Whatever the case, we know that they are leaving town disappointed. With faces “downcast”, they admit to the stranger speaking with them on the road: “our own hope had been that he [Jesus] would be the one to set Israel free.” For they viewed him as “a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people.” But Jesus had been executed and their hopes dashed to the ground. In these details we gain an insight into the disciple’s faith, or lack thereof. Remember, when Jesus asked the Twelve, “who do men say that the Son of Man is?” they responded, “some say John the Baptist, others say Eli′jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matt 16:14). These two disciples on the road are shown here to have held the common view of the people regarding Jesus. They also thought he would be the one to free Israel, which is a reference to the Messiah. There was a general expectation in the air at the time that the Messiah would come, who was to be a kind of warrior-king who would defeat the Romans and usher in a new era of peace and prosperity.
What the disciples’ words show is that they viewed Jesus through an entirely earthly and human lens. They lacked supernatural faith, for they failed to perceive his identity as the divine Son of God. And indeed, this lack of faith and failure to perceive, is happening at the precise moment Jesus is speaking to them on the road. The Gospel tells us that “something prevented them from recognising him.” In fact, the Greek text literally says, “their eyes were held from recognising him.” Something is wrong with their eyes! No, it’s not that they need glasses. It is their inner eyes, the eyes of faith that are deficient. We should recall here the conversion of St Paul, who, when Jesus was revealed to him in light, his eyes were burned such that he went blind. There was a purification of his sight that had to happen in him for him to properly see. And in the case of the disciples on the road, that very purification is happening as they walk: “‘You foolish men’, he says. ‘So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the Scriptures that were about himself.” Burn. The disciples receive a bit of a tongue lashing from Jesus, and then he “burns” their hearts with the truth of the Scriptures. They would later remark, “did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” You see as they walk with our Lord they undergo an inner purification, a burning, so that their eyes of faith may eventually perceive.
I don’t know if you’ve realised, brothers and sisters, but this is precisely how the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is structured. We don’t go straight to the altar. We walk with our Lord to the pulpit, where the Word of God is proclaimed and opened to us. This is no mere formality or chance for us to zone out! No, just as was demonstrated on the road to Emmaus, St Jerome rightly said in the fourth century, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The disciples did not understand the Bible; therefore, they did not understand Jesus. In fact, they couldn’t even recognise him standing in front of them! That goes for us too, brothers and sisters. If we never read the Scriptures, if we aren’t interested in the Bible, we will never know Jesus Christ or the life that he alone can give us! Remember, he is the Word made flesh. And he continues to take flesh in the words of Scripture which mediate the Word to us. The same St Jerome once admonished his readers saying, “when we approach the Eucharistic mystery, if a crumb falls to the ground, we are troubled. Yet when we are listening to the word of God, and God’s Word and Christ’s flesh and blood are being poured into our ears yet we pay no heed, what great peril should we not feel?” If we reject the incarnation of the Word in the words of Scripture, how will we properly recognise him incarnate in the bread of the Eucharist?
This is the next step. After having burned their hearts, purifying the eyes of their faith by his Word, Jesus sits with them at table where a very striking sequence takes place. “He took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them.” Sound familiar? This is the sequence we recount in every Mass: He took, blessed, broke and gave. Curiously, it was in this Eucharistic action that two seemingly opposite things happen. “Their eyes were opened”. They finally perceive him. Their purified eyes of faith now lay hold of the divine Son. And yet, just as they lay hold of him, at that very instant he vanishes! Such, dear friends, is the nature of faith. Faith is a seeing without seeing, a perception as through a dark veil or, as St Paul says, “we see now through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor 13:12). By faith, Jesus Christ is at once laid hold of while receding before us, such that we are pulled forth into the darkness of eternity. But once your eyes of faith are opened, while he vanishes, you see him everywhere. Faith allows you to see Jesus Christ at every moment, in every situation; beyond the one hour you give to him every Sunday. By faith, in every time and place, we are pulled into God’s eternal, present moment. That’s what faith does.
Dear brothers and sisters, the same Lord, who speaks to us in the Scriptures today, now walks with us to his altar, where he himself will take bread, bless it, break it, and hand it to you. Pray for the grace to see! Pray that our eyes may be opened, that real faith may be kindled in us so that we may see who it is that gives himself to us in the Holy Eucharist today! If you do not see, dear friends, ask the Lord to burn you, to purify you, to forgive you your sins! So that with sight made clear, you may see him everywhere and cross over, while still in this life, into the supernatural life of eternity.