Hope and Healing on the Road to Emmaus

By April 26, 2019 4 Comments
road to emmaus
(Image: Robert Zünd, Gang nach Emmaus [Public domain])

In the fourth resurrection appearance on Easter Sunday, the story of the Road to Emmaus, (Luke 24:13–32), two disciples of Jesus are leaving Jerusalem to go home to Emmaus after having travelled there for Passover.  Along the way, they are discussing the passion and death of Jesus. The word Luke uses for discussing actually translates “tossing words”—they were arguing. Luke tells us the name of one of the disciples—Cleopas, Jesus’ uncle. Cleopas was married to Mary (who was present at the foot of the cross). So perhaps this was a married couple who were arguing!

Lost sheep

In leaving Jerusalem, these disciples are the first “fallen away” Catholics, because in leaving Jerusalem after the death of Jesus, they are leaving the Church and its offices:

  • Resurrected Christ—King
  • Mary—Queen Mother (Hebrew gebirah)
  • Peter—Pope (Hebrew albayit, prime minister, literally “head of the house”)
  • Apostles—first bishops

Why do they leave? As the disciples themselves explain, they had hoped Jesus was the Messiah. In talking about Jesus as they walk along they no long call him son of God or messiah, but prophet. The son of God wouldn’t have died. In the face of the scandal of the crucifixion they have given up hope, like the apostles who didn’t believe Mary and the other women to whom Jesus had appeared earlier that day.

Jesus coming into their midst (unrecognized) shows the mercy of God seeking the lost. Christ, the Good Shepherd goes after these two lost sheep. He wants to bring them back to the Church in Jerusalem (where they will indeed go later that night). This image is one of great joy over one who is lost and then found—as in the parable of the prodigal son or the parable of the lost coin (Luke 15).

In the same way you may have family members who have been away from the Church for years. What great joy we experience when they return. The heavens rejoice over this return—and also when we return to Christ through the sacrament of confession.

Bible study on the road

But why do the disciples on the road to Emmaus not recognize Christ, especially if Cleopas is Jesus’ uncle? As we are repeatedly told in Gospels, we need the “eyes to see and ears to hear.” This phrase is speaking of the necessity of faith in order to recognize the truth. In leaving the Church, they no longer have the faith necessary to see Jesus. Also, Christ’s resurrected, glorified body, while still his earthly body, is very different. In 1 Corinthian 15:35–58 Paul explains that the earthly body is to the resurrected body as a seed is to a tree. The resurrected body is clothed with power, glory and immortality. Jesus’ resurrected body is not like the frail, mutilated body on the cross, although he still bears nail marks in his hands and feet.

So what does Jesus do when he joins these disciples on the road and remains unrecognized? He could have just said, “It’s me, Jesus. Let’s go back to Jerusalem.” But he doesn’t. Instead, Jesus holds a Bible study and explains Scripture as they walk the seven miles to Emmaus, seven being the number of covenant. Jesus shows how everything points to Himself. Hugh of St. Victor writes, “All sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ!” Saint Jerome is even more blunt, telling us that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!”

In opening the Scriptures to them, Jesus is essentially telling his two disciples, “If you knew Scripture, you would recognize me. The Scriptures foretold the necessity of my passion and death. I told you this was going to happen!” Wouldn’t you have loved to have been at this Bible study?

Breaking bread

When they arrive at their home in Emmaus, it seems that Jesus will be continuing on until the disciples invite him to stay with them. Jesus is waiting to be invited. It is the same with us.

Have you ever seen William Holman Hunt’s painting The Light of the World illustrating Revelation 3:20: “I stand at the door and knock”? There is no doorknob on Jesus’ side of the door. He is always there wanting to come into our heart. But he is waiting to be asked, waiting for an invitation.

After the disciples invite Jesus to stay and eat with them, their blindness is lifted upon the “breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:30–31). Their physical sight corresponds to their spiritual sight, and they recognize Christ. This points to the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The words Luke uses to describe Jesus’ actions with the bread—took, blessed, broke, gave—are the same words used to describe the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The gospels also use these same words in recounting the miraculous bread miracles in the feeding of 4000 and the feeding of the 5000, which foreshadow the infinitely greater feeding miracle in the Eucharist. The disciples finally recognize Jesus because he is truly present in the breaking of the bread—as he is still truly present, blood, soul, and divinity, in the Eucharist.

Notice that when the disciples do recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, he disappears from their sight. What is going on? He had said he would stay with them (see Luke 24:29). But although they no longer see him, he is still present in the bread he blessed and broke and gave to them. And this is how Jesus remains with us to the end of the age, fulfilling his promise in Matthew 28:20.

In fact, the pattern of the encounter on the road to Emmaus is the same pattern we see in the Mass—the liturgy of the word, followed by the liturgy of the Eucharist. Jesus opens up the Scriptures on the road to Emmaus (liturgy of the word), then he breaks bread for his disciples in their home (liturgy of the Eucharist).

Hope and healing

This encounter on the road to Emmaus is a reversal of the Garden of Eden in which God walked with Adam and Eve. Their eyes were opened to sin when they ate the forbidden fruit. Now God walks with another couple whose eyes are opened to Jesus in the breaking of the bread—the fruit of the Tree of Life. Jesus blesses them by breaking open Scripture and breaking bread. These two disciples give us a physical representation of the whole of salvation history—walking away from God in sin and returning through Jesus Christ.

Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus let us invite Jesus to stay with us!

Sandy Wanzeck

Sandy Wanzeck

Sandy Wanzeck has been an instructor for the SJV Lay Division since 2012. She has an M.A. in Biblical Theology from the Augustine Institute and a B.A. in Business Administration from West Texas A & M University. Sandy is also a graduate of the Lay Division's four-year Denver Catholic Biblical School and two-year Catechetical School programs and is a certified “Discover Your God-Given Gifts” instructor. Sandy and her husband, Tom, are blessed to live in Denver near their three daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren.


  • Gary says:

    Why didn’t these two disciples recognize Jesus? Was Jesus wearing a disguise? If so, why? According to the same author, Jesus appeared to the same disciples that same evening and they recognized him. My guess is this: This story is pure fiction. It was invented for theological purposes. The original story probably involved a “sighting” of Jesus, no different from ghost sightings today. No one should trust the historical reliability of these ancient fantastical tales.


  • Teresa says:

    You should go to the source…. ask Him if He is real.
    Read what others, who HAVE asked Him if He is really real, to see what they experienced.
    Watch the movies the Case For Christ, Heaven Is For Real, Miracles From Heaven, Breakthrough for starters. The Case for Christ is a perfect start for you.
    Read Undaunted by Josh McDowell, also a perfect start for you.
    Plenty more on IT’S A MIRACLE and The 700 CLUB – CBN on the internet.
    God gave you a free will… to have the CHOICE to either reject Him or receive Him.
    What will you do with that freedom to choose.

    • gary says:

      Below is a list of books by scholars, Christian apologists, and by former Christians and other skeptics that I have read on the subject of Christianity and in particular, the Resurrection of Jesus. I believe it is important to be familiar with the positions of both Christians and skeptics on these issues. I would encourage all Christians and all skeptics to read these works.

      “The Resurrection of the Son of God” by NT Wright
      “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” by Richard Bauckham
      “The Death of the Messiah, Volumes I and II” by Raymond Brown
      “Making the Case for Christianity” by Maas, Francisco, et al.
      “The Resurrection Fact” by Bombaro, Francisco, et al.
      “Miracles, Volumes I and II”, by Craig Keener
      “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona
      “Why are There Differences in the Gospels” by Michael Licona
      “The Son Rises” by William Lane Craig
      “The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” by Raymond Brown
      “The Resurrection of Jesus” by Gerd Luedemann
      “Resurrection Reconsidered” by Gregory Riley
      “John and Thomas—Gospels in Conflict?” by Christopher Skinner
      “The Argument for the Holy Sepulchre” (journal article) by scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor
      “Israel in Egypt” by James Hoffmeier
      “The Bible Unearthed” by Finkelstein and Silberman
      “The Resurrection of Jesus in the Light of Jewish Burial Practices“ by Craig Evans, (newsletter article) The City, a publication of Houston Baptist University, May 4, 2016
      “Has the Tomb of Jesus Been Discovered?” by Jodi Magness, SBL Forum
      “Genre, Sub-genre and Questions of Audience: A Proposed Typology for Greco-Roman biography” (article) by Justin M. Smith, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, Scotland
      “Cold-Case Christianity” by J. Warner Wallace
      “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel
      “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman
      “Jesus, Interrupted” by Bart Ehrman
      “How Jesus Became God” by Bart Ehrman
      “Jesus Before the Gospels” by Bart Ehrman
      “Did Jesus Exist?” by Bart Ehrman
      “Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus” by Asher Norman (endorsed by Talmudic scholars for its accuracy in presenting a Jewish perspective of Jesus and the Christian New Testament)
      “The Book of Miracles” by Kenneth L. Woodward
      “Why I Believed, Reflections of a Former Missionary” by Kenneth W. Daniels
      “Why Evolution is True” by biologist Jerry Coyne
      “Masters of the Planet-the Search for our Human Origins” by Ian Tattersall
      “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by philosopher Peter Boghossian
      “Can We Trust the Gospels?” by Peter Williams
      “The Outsider Test for Faith” by John W. Loftus
      “God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion by physicist Victor J. Stenger
      “Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be The Only Humans on Earth” by paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer
      “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by evangelical apologists Josh and Sean McDowell
      “The Case Against Miracles” edited by John Loftus
      “The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry” by Jewish author, Michael Alter
      “The Blind Watchmaker” by biologist Richard Dawkins
      “The Other Gospels: Accounts of Jesus from Outside the New Testament” by Bart Ehrman and Zlatko Plese (currently reading)
      “The Age of Reason” by Thomas Paine
      “Conversations With My Inner Atheist” by evangelical theologian Randal Rauser
      Lord or Legend? Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma by Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy

    • Dan Sandulescu says:

      I liked your answer, Mrs Teresa. You remind me of the Good Samaritan woman…
      Are you familiar with the main work of this author of the last century, Oskar Ernst Bernhardt (1875-1941): „In the Light of Truth”, 1931, written under the pseudonym Abdruschin?

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