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The Curious Puzzles of the Road to Emmaus

April 24, 2022 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 24:13-16 (NRSV)

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

Focus

The beloved story of “The Road to Emmaus” includes several curious puzzles. One of the most perplexing is why the two disciples of Jesus who were walking on the road failed to recognize the risen Jesus when he appeared to them. Though we cannot know for sure why this was the case, we do know that sometimes we have a hard time recognizing God’s presence in our lives even though God is with us. Still the good news is that God is there, journeying with us on our own “road to Emmaus.”

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

Luke 24 begins, as we saw last week, with the story of the women who went to the tomb of Jesus in order to anoint his body. They were perplexed to find the tomb empty, and then terrified by angels who announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. The women reported what they had seen and heard to the male disciples, who did not believe them. Only Peter was intrigued enough to run to the tomb and see for himself what had happened.

The next story in Luke 24 has been a favorite of Christians throughout the ages, and for good reason. It’s often called “The Road to Emmaus,” which is a little odd since the road isn’t the main character or main theme of the story, but rather the place where much of it happens.

Though this story is familiar and beloved, it does contain several curious puzzles. First of all, scholars aren’t quite sure where Emmaus was, since several ancient cities bore that name. What we know is that it was “about seven miles from Jerusalem” (literally in Greek, “sixty stadia,” which equals about seven miles; Luke 24:13).

The second puzzle in this story concerns the identity of the two people who were walking on the road. Verse 13 says the walkers were “two of them,” that is, two of the followers of Jesus mentioned in Luke 24:1-12. One of these people is identified in verse 18 as Cleopas. Unfortunately, that name doesn’t help us much because it appears only here in the New Testament. Traditionally, people referred to the two walkers as “the men on the road to Emmaus.” But we don’t actually know the gender of Cleopas’s companion. In recent times, scholars have wondered if this person was, in fact, the wife of Cleopas. This is certainly possible since we know that Cleopas and his associate seemed to share a home together (Luke 24:29). Even more intriguing is the possibility that Cleopas is the same person identified as Clopas in John 19:25. Spellings in the ancient world were often inconsistent. “Clopas” shows up in the phrase, “Mary the wife of Clopas,” who was one of the women standing near the cross of Jesus as he was crucified. I’m inclined to believe that Clopas and Mary were the two people on the road, but nobody can be sure about this identification. It remains a mystery, along with the precise location of Emmaus.

The third puzzle in Luke 24:13-16 is perhaps the most curious of all. As the two people are walking and talking, “Jesus himself came near and went with them” (24:15). Now, we might expect this appearance to have been cause for a major celebration. But, in fact, the two walkers did not identify their new companion as Jesus. Luke puts it this way, “[T]heir eyes were kept from recognizing him” (24:16). The puzzle here is why. Why did these followers of Jesus fail to recognize him? Commentators propose various answers, as you would expect, but we really can’t be sure what prevented the two disciples from recognizing their master. What is absolutely clear, however, is the fact that Jesus didn’t immediately make himself known to them. He could have waved his arms and said, “Hey, you two, it’s me, Jesus! I rose from the dead. Here I am, ready to walk with you.” But that didn’t happen. Jesus chose to leave his companions in the dark for a while.

I do find this curious, but also curiously familiar. So many times in my life I have failed to recognize God’s presence with me, failed to hear God’s words spoken to me, failed to see what God was doing in my life. Sometimes God, abounding in mercy, has broken through my inability to perceive God’s presence, guidance, and activity. But, often, God has chosen for God’s own reasons to leave me in my fog of misperception.

I would confess that there is a big part of me that would prefer God to be more obvious more of the time. I want God to say, “Hey, I’m right here. And this is what I’m doing. And this is what I have for you to do.” But God’s ways are often different, and I accept this. God is often more inclined, like Jesus, to join me in the journey, deepening our relationship, helping me to see from a divine perspective. In that process I am invited both to grow in God and to know God better.

Wherever you are on your “road to Emmaus,” know that God is with you. This is true whether or not you’re able to perceive God’s presence right now. Even as Jesus walked along with the two people on the road, so God is walking along with you. The resurrection of Jesus assures you of this truth. And that’s very good news, indeed!

Reflect

Can you think of a time in your life (or several times) when you were surprised by the presence of God?

Can you think of a time in your life (or several times) when you weren’t able to sense God’s presence, even though, later on, you were sure that God had been with you?

How aware are you of God’s presence right now? (Yes, literally, right now, in this moment.)

What helps you to be more aware of God’s presence and guidance?

Act

Set aside several minutes to reflect upon the fact that God is with you now. See what else is stirred up in you because of God’s presence.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for the wonderful story of “the road to Emmaus.” There is so much in this story that grabs our attention, so much that speaks to our hearts.

Sometimes, Lord, you make your presence known with clarity. But there are many times when it’s hard for me to sense that you are with me. My theology says you are. And I believe it. But I do wish I were better able to perceive you. And, to be fully honest, I do wish at times you made yourself more obvious to me.

Today, though, I thank you for journeying with me throughout my life. Thanks for being here with me even now. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)


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