Bible studies on the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace
"Pilgrimage to Emmaus" (Luke 24:13-35)
by Guido Dotti*
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The account of the two disciples of Emmaus does not speak about a pilgrimage toward the holy city of Jerusalem, but about leaving it in disillusionment. Without hope and eschatological expectation, it is not possible to walk with and toward justice and peace. These are in fact a gift of God, and only as such can they become a prophecy in our world.
The stranger who was listened to and welcomed reanimates the disciples’ hearts at the moment of sharing a meal; then even retracing their steps becomes a new road.
Along the road walked two disciples, one of whom was anonymous—he represents every disciple of Jesus, each one of us. They walked opposite to the ascent to Jerusalem made by Jesus and opposite also to the pilgrimage made a few days earlier for the Jewish Passover. An ignorance of Scripture that is ignorance of Christ. A disillusionment that covers with ashes the coals of hope, which nevertheless are ready to be reignited. An impulse of human solidarity toward the unknown pilgrim—it won’t be good for him to continue his journey alone as evening falls. Their eyes that open at the breaking of the bread and that no longer see anything, but understand everything. The race back to recount to the others what is impossible to recount—the meeting with the risen Lord.
These are the elements of the Gospel passage of the disciples going to Emmaus, an episode that we can read also from another point of view, by putting ourselves behind the three figures that are walking along a country road, by walking behind Jesus himself, by following the footsteps of that pilgrim who is not recognized at once. This perspective can make us realize another teaching that Jesus left us: that we ourselves become companions in the pilgrimage of a disoriented and disillusioned humanity.
Perhaps from this perspective, we, like Jesus, will become capable of drawing near to our brothers and sisters in humanity in order to listen to their hopes and their disillusionment, to fathom their sorrows, to understand the diffidence of those who do not see in their own lives and around themselves those energies of resurrection about which others speak to them. Like Jesus, we will then be able to render every verse of Scripture a word of life, replacing it in the fulfillment of a promise greater than that announced by any political liberator. Like Jesus, we will be able to discern humanity’s impulse to share house and table with the stranger who cannot be left on the road as night draws in. Like Jesus, we will then be able to clear away the ashes of laziness, to reawaken passion in hearts, and to restore brightness to the look that discerns the body given in the broken bread.
Today we do not know precisely where the village of Emmaus might be. Perhaps this is an invitation to identify it with every village inhabited by hearts that desire to burn and hope. On that road, which from Jerusalem turns back to every village of ours, each one of us encounters disciples that are known and disciples that are anonymous, men and women. Each of us meets unknown pilgrims who hide an unknown Jesus, but especially meets and encounters him- or herself, discovers that that he or she has a heart that hopes, eyes to see and ears to listen, and finds him- or herself in full solidarity with every human being.
This text alludes to three spaces that mediate the authentic presence of the Risen Christ, three places in which we meet the living Christ: scripture, eucharist, and community. These are intercommunicating spaces in a living synergy, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, who lights the heart’s fire, provoked by explanation of the Word. The disciples, through the Holy Spirit, recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, in the eucharist. The Holy Spirit provokes their return to the community from which they had separated themselves.
Jesus takes us by the hand on our road, he explains to us the scriptures, and he says to us: I am present in the scriptures, if you listen to the Word of God, your heart will burn on account of my presence. He offers to us the eucharistic banquet: the bread broken in the eucharist opens your eyes and makes you capable of recognizing that I am present. And then Jesus reminds us of his presence in the community of brothers and sisters, in the church. In these three places the risen Jesus makes himself present among us today as well. His true face is there. The road that awaits us from that day without end, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, is a road of faith in Christ’s suffering and conquering, about whom the scriptures speak. We learn that it is a pilgrimage of hope and of expectation of his return, so that he may take us with him, that it is a pilgrimage of charity that removes the ashes and reignites the fire that every person created in the image and likeness of God harbors in his or her own heart.
And in this life pilgrimage, the Christian must be able to listen to the voice of the other. Thus, an Italian philosopher, a non-believer, invites his Christian friends to read the passage about Emmaus: “What needs to be done is to walk together, to be able to transform the transit into a dwelling. This is the profound and hidden meaning of the story of Emmaus: For a non-believer what happens here is not the revelation of Jesus as God or of God in Jesus, but the reciprocal meeting of persons in the discovery of the common fragility. In the fractio panis, in the “sharing,” people reciprocally show confidence. We are strangers on earth. The goal is not important, but rather the staying on the journey. Being able to walk together. It is also necessary to know how to pause for a stop: to render oneself a support for others. For all, in fact, evening falls.”
In the evening that falls for every person, the eucharist makes us undertake once again this road every time that Scripture is explained, bread is broken, love is shared.
Questions for discussion
- What have we “so hoped for” in our life, and what still today “makes our heart burn in our breast”?
- What is our capability to “walk together,” even with the unknown stranger, to listen to his/her words and to understand his/her gestures, not to abandon him/her as evening falls?
Ideas for action
- Bring into action a “pastoral work of the street” capable of drawing close to people, particularly to the homeless, to listen to their needs and to alleviate their sufferings.
- Offer your ecclesial spaces in which conflicts can be confronted as occasions of a common road of conversion and not as negotiations among enemies for a “ceasefire” (cf. Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa).
Pellettier, Anne-Marie. “Les disciples d’Emmaüs (Luc XXIV, 13-35,” in Lectures bibliques. Aux sources de la culture occidentale, Nathan-Cerf, Paris 1994, pp. 305-312.
Robinson, B.P. “The Place of the Emmaus Story in Luke-Acts” in New Testament Studies, 30 (Oct. 1984), n 4.
Williams, Rowan. Emmaus (poem), text commented by Katherine Firth: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/encounter/on-emmaus/5279408
Some classic and contemporary pictures on the Emmaus scene: https://it.pinterest.com/dbadger53/religion-road-to-emmaus/
* Brother Guido Dotti is a monk in the ecumenical monastic community of Bose, in Northern Italy. He has written extensively on Christian spirituality and interreligious dialogue. He is editor, with Tamara Grdzelidze, of A Cloud of Witnesses: Opportunities for Ecumenical Cooperation.
 Salvatore Natoli, Dizionario dei vizi e delle virtù, Feltrinelli, Milano 1996, 14-16.