Tag Archives: Road to Emmaus

Forgiveness on the road to Emmaus

April 24, 2020

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It was late Easter Sunday afternoon. The sun was dipping in the western sky. The day was largely spent. It was time to call it quits and settle in for the evening.

Two disciples were ambling down the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, one named Cleopas, the other who goes nameless. Some think that his name was Simon or Simeon. Others say Ammaon or Luke. The names are guesses. We will never know.

Road to EmmausThese two disciples were dark sheep. It had been an ugly day. They were befuddled. They did not know where to go. They did not know what to do. They were on a road to nowhere, off course and lost. They made one bad decision after another, and they were in a heap of trouble.

Cleopas and his friend were not apostles, but they were close partners with them. It is likely that they were handpicked by Jesus, two of the seventy additional disciples that Jesus had appointed (see Lk 10:1). They stood out. They were tops among the seventy, friends to the twelve, and companions to Jesus. And they had history together. They heard Jesus speak. They watched Jesus perform miracles. They traveled with Jesus throughout Galilee, and then to Jerusalem.

True friends stay together, particularly when the going gets tough. Not Cleopas and his partner. When things were at their worst, with their Master Jesus dead and buried, a time that they should have pulled together and leaned on each other, they left. They went off by themselves. They abandoned the group, disloyal, undependable.

They were skeptics, doubters. Jesus had told them twice that he would rise on the third day (Lk 9:22; 18:33). The women that went to the tomb reported to them that Jesus had risen (Lk 24:10-11,22-24). They would not believe the women. Worse yet, they did not trust Jesus’ promise. It was too good to be true. It could not possibly have happened.

They were in despair. When Jesus called them, like the apostles they decided to leave family, friends, home, and job. They left everything to follow him (see Lk 5:11,28; 18:28). Yet after they had invested so much time and energy in this new venture, they decided it had been a dismal failure. It was a dream that never came true. Emmaus was home. It was time to go back to their families and pick up with their old jobs. Their disciple days were over.

They were headed west into the darkness, trapped in multiple sins, dark sheep, and lost. The risen Jesus did not punish them, but in his boundless mercy he appeared to them and walked with them. It is what the Good Shepherd does. When a sheep wanders off, Jesus goes in search of them (see Lk 15:4-6). Instead of withholding his grace, he explained the Scriptures and broke bread with them, and through his appearance forgave them, reunited them with the others, strengthened their faith, and enabled them to renew their commitment.

Likewise, when we are going in the wrong direction, the risen Jesus will never abandon us. He appears to us when we are down and out, oftentimes suddenly and unexpectedly, and in a veiled way that may be hard to recognize. His love is constant. His forgiveness is assured. Jesus wants to be united with every traveler on the road of life, particularly if we ever wander off course.

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Three skip out, ten do zip

April 17, 2020

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“Thomas places his finger into Jesus’ side” (Jn 20:27). St. Savior’s Church, Jerusalem, Israel. Father Michael Van Sloun

There is a disturbing and similar detail in this week’s and next week’s gospels. Both are accounts of Easter Sunday, the first from John, the second from Luke. The gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter tells how Thomas was missing, and the gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter tells how Cleopas and the other disciple were also missing. All three were absent, off by themselves, not with the other disciples in Jerusalem.

This is a problem. Jesus had prayed at the Last Supper that his followers would be one, and on Easter Sunday three of them were apart from the group. John’s gospel does not say where Thomas went. Luke reports that Cleopas and the other disciple were on the road to Emmaus. Wherever they were, they were not where they were supposed to be, with the others.

On Easter Sunday a group of disciples was huddled together behind locked doors in Jerusalem, probably ten of them, the twelve apostles minus Thomas and Judas Iscariot. They were also missing Cleopas and the other disciple, two of their closest partners. It is presumed that the ten knew that Judas Iscariot had committed suicide. The absence of the other three would have been conspicuous. They should have been alarmed by their absence. They should have been wondering, “Why aren’t they here?” “Why did they leave?” “Where are they now?” A close-knit band of disciples would have wanted the three absent ones to be with them.

There is no report that the ten apostles took any initiative to locate the other three. There is no record of them asking anyone about their whereabouts, nor is there a record that anyone went out to look for them and invite them back.

Usually when it comes to sin and blame on Easter, the three disciples who were missing are chastised for being absent. But what about the other ten? They also failed. They could have been doing something and did nothing. They shirked their responsibilities when they did not reach out to the other three and attempt to reunite them to the group.

Peter understood that there is strength in numbers and danger when a person goes off alone. Only days earlier he had gone off by himself, alone, when he denied Jesus. The other nine were also aware of the value of group togetherness. A community of believers can help a person stay on the right path. Off alone, it is easy to stray off course. With group support it is easier to make good choices. Off alone, a person is vulnerable and more likely to slip and fall. In the group there is accountability. Off alone, there is independence and no one to offer constructive suggestions or confront sins and failings.

We need to learn from the mistakes of the ten. It is easy for regular churchgoers, especially after the large crowds for Easter Sunday shrink back to the regular size, to point an accusing finger at those who worship occasionally or who have fallen away from the Church, and claim that they are at fault for being absent. Those who are missing are absent for a variety of reasons. Instead of assessing blame, it is better to offer the benefit of the doubt, and instead of being harsh and critical, to be warm and receptive. It is up to regular churchgoers to reach out to those who are not connected and do something to reunify them with the group.

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