On the Road to Emmaus

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10, KJV*).  Thus, I embark on this personal exploration of sacred scripture with a healthy sense of reverence and respect, I hope, and even a little trepidation. The transcendence and mystery of God, as revealed in the Bible, make any encounter with it a matter of prayer and contemplation as well as exegesis. I ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, and I am grateful for the illuminating Bible study Resources which I will share along the way. In many cases, these will be Catholic commentaries, such as the Navarre Bible, the Come and See Catholic Bible Study (Emmaus Road Publishing) or the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series (Baker Academic), but I will also draw on the wealth of contemporary Jewish Biblical exegesis and commentary, to begin with, the Covenant & Conversation series (Maggid-Koren Books), which collects essays by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I will also consult the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible and many other books by both Christian and Jewish scholars relevant to particular topics and figures in the Bible.

The cover image is the 1877 painting The Road to Emmaus by Robert Zünd. I first discovered this painting at my grandparents’ home, where a small reproduction was displayed. It came to my parents’ home and then to mine, so it remains very close to me and helped form my image of Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke (24:13-35), two disciples are walking toward the village of Emmaus, not far from Jerusalem, when a stranger joins them. It is the risen Christ but they are downcast and do not recognize him. He inquires about their conversation and they “fill him in” on the events of Good Friday, “concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, mighty in work and word before God and all the people (Luke 24:19; DR), yet was condemned to death and crucified–an event that left them confused and diminished in hope. The stranger chides their unbelief and begins to teach them:

Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures, the things that were concerning him. (Luke 24:26-27)

The two men–one was Cleopas–entreated him to stay with them for dinner, and it was only then, in a very significant action reenacting the Last Supper, that they recognized him as Jesus:

And it came to pass, whilst he was at table with them, he took bread, and blessed, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him: and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to the other: ‘Was not our heart burning within us, whilst he spoke in this way, and opened to us the scriptures?’(Luke 24:30-32)

In the Come and See bible study for this Gospel, Fr. Joseph Ponessa and Dr. Laurie Watson Manhardt comment on the double significance of this whole episode for understanding the entire shape of our worship today:

“Jesus fed the hearts and minds of the disciples with the Liturgy of the Word before he fed their souls and bodies with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Thus the Emmaus account contains a complete liturgy, both of word and of sacrament. The hearts of the disciples burned within them as he opened to them the Scriptures, because they hungered for the Scriptures to be explained to them.  They were blessed first because they hungered (Luke 6:21), and secondly because the word was given and explained to them.” (p. 206)

In an article at UMC.org (the website of the United Methodist Church), Heather Hahn comments how important it is to note that Jesus did not select just a few verses of prophecy to teach his disciples, but he taught from the whole of scripture, starting from Moses and the prophets, to reveal the truth of his coming into the world.

I am a recent convert to Catholicism, after being a “cradle” United Methodist. The journey that led to my joining the Catholic church has intensified my desire to study the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Although I will not be proceeding in any systematic way, I will start more or less at the beginning with reflections on some passages in the Torah, the five books of Moses, that have deeper significance for me now in the context of my experience of the Mass and renewed Christian faith. The things I write about these passages are certainly not the last word–that’s why this blog is subtitled “a personal journey into Sacred Scripture.” I will likely return to these passages more than once, as I explore their interconnections and implications. I am grateful for the cycle of readings throughout the year that lead us to return to the same passages but with fresh eyes, conditioned by where we find ourselves in our lives at a given moment.

I consecrate this study to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; therefore, my first posts will offer some background on these venerable but ever-new devotions. The symbols of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart are both crowned with eternal flames, to reveal to us the light and warmth of God’s burning love, continually offered to us. May we open our own hearts to this love more and more, as we explore and discover God’s Word to all his beloved people.

Resources:

The Gospel of Luke (Come and See Catholic Bible Study series) by Fr. Joseph L. Ponessa, S.S.D. and Laurie Watson Manhardt, Ph.D. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2015.

“Walking with Christ: Do you know the way to Emmaus?” by Heather Hahn. http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/walking-with-christ-do-you-know-the-way-to-emmaus

*Note: I will be citing the King James Version (KJV), which is closest to the Revised Standard Version I grew up hearing, or the Douay-Rheims 1899 (DR), which contains the complete Catholic Bible. Both the King James and Douay-Rheims versions are in the Public Domain. However, most of the commentaries I am consulting use the Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition (RSVCE). This edition can be found at Ignatius Press or online at Bible Gateway. I will sometimes note in my discussion when a different word or phrase chosen by the RSVCE is very important for further understanding.

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