When we read a novel, we can usually trust the author’s exposition. If the author wrote that a character is annoyed with a situation then the reader can trust that the character is annoyed. What is thought by a character are true thoughts and we can read minds through the words of the author. What is given as history from the author’s perspective is reliable. If a prophecy is made, it will have a bearing on the story.
One reason we enjoy reading is because we find understandable worlds that lift us out of the unpredictable and often confusing world around us. In the characters we love, we find people we can get to know more intimately and certainly than those in our own society. Ulterior motives may not be known to their victims in the story, but we see them as they are. We see clearly their motivations, emotions, and weaknesses. When they succeed, we revel in their victory. When they fall, we feel the pain of failure. If they pick themselves up from the dust, we go with them through their recovery. Stories have a rhythm. They are comfortable.
No one understands the story better than the author. Every word was written with purpose. Each was chosen for a reason.
On the day of our Lord’s resurrection, two of His disciples left Jerusalem for Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). As they went, they discussed all of the things that had occurred… the passion and death of Jesus. Scripture tells us they were downcast (Luke 24:17). This wasn’t a happy occasion for them and they were likely leaving Jerusalem out of fear for their own lives just as the Apostles were gathered behind locked doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19).
Jesus approached them as they walked but their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him (Luke 24:17). He simply asked, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” Cleopas (the only one named) said in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” As the center of the things they were discussing, Jesus knew very well about the goings on in Jerusalem… but He doesn’t chide them. He asked, “What sort of things?” Just as God called out to Adam in the Garden of Eden and gave him a chance to explain himself so does our Lord let His disciples tell the story from their own perspective.
They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see” (Luke 24:19-24).
They spilled out their hearts at this point and shared their doubts and disappointments. Jesus isn’t called “Son of God,” He is called a mighty prophet. It seems the Passion of our Lord has caused them to doubt what He told them and to doubt that He fulfilled the prophecies they had been taught. They had hoped He would redeem Israel but they speak in past tense and suggest their hope is now gone. It is the third day and although some women reported some astounding things, they believe Him dead. He was just another prophet rejected and condemned. He couldn’t be dead and be the Messiah they had hoped for.
Jesus answered and said… “Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die. So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. Then how can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up?” (John 12:30-34).
What did they expect? The Talmud, Midrash, and related texts of Jewish tradition make reference to four messianic figures—also referred to as the four craftsmen (Zech 2:1-4). Elijah is one of those figures by name who will precede the coming of the Messiah and prepare His way—identified by Jesus as John the Baptist (Matt 17:11-13). The Righteous Priest is one whose role isn’t largely explored in the ancient texts however Melchizedek was “a priest of the most high God” (Gen 14:18) whose name means “King of Righteousness” and king of peace. He was without beginning or end, resembles the Son of God, and remains a priest forever (Heb 7:1-3). There are two messiahs by name and purpose; Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David. Messiah ben Joseph is to build a new temple—“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19)—and is seen as the suffering servant who bears the grief and sorrows of the people to his death—a prophet. In fact, one of the cited testimonies against Jesus was His word about the new Temple He would build (Mark 14:57-58)—and this was the reason Messiah ben Joseph was to be killed. Messiah ben David is seen as the future Jewish king who reigns when God resurrects the dead—for a sign, the people pointed to Lazarus (John 12:17-18).
Say to them: Thus says the Lord God: I will soon take the Israelites from among the nations to which they have gone and gather them from all around to bring them back to their land. I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and there shall be one king for them all. They shall never again be two nations, never again be divided into two kingdoms
No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols, their abominations, and all their transgressions. I will deliver them from all their apostasy through which they sinned. I will cleanse them so that they will be my people, and I will be their God. David my servant shall be king over them; they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my ordinances, observe my statutes, and keep them. They shall live on the land I gave to Jacob my servant, the land where their ancestors lived; they shall live on it always, they, their children, and their children’s children, with David my servant as their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them. I will multiply them and put my sanctuary among them forever (Ez 37:21-26).
When Jesus entered Jerusalem on the colt, the crowd proclaimed Him “Son of David” (Matt 21:9). It wasn’t the first time (Matt 12:23, Matt 15:22, Mark 10:48, Mark 12:35, and John 7:42). I can’t find a reference to Him as “Son of Joseph” other than in His relationship to his foster father (John 1:45, Luke 4:22, and Matt 13:55)—which is still fulfillment of prophecy. The messiah they longed for is the king that would lead Israel to glory, not the one destined to die for his people. They didn’t see a singular messiah in the person of Jesus—God-in-the-flesh—who is both suffering servant and glorious king. They didn’t see Him as the Righteous Priest of God offering the sacrifice of Himself for the redemption of humanity (Heb 7:23-28). We know Him as King, Prophet, and Priest!
On the next day, when the great crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out:
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
[even] the king of Israel.”
Jesus found an ass and sat upon it, as is written:
“Fear no more, O daughter Zion;
see, your king comes, seated upon an ass’s colt.”
His disciples did not understand this at first, but when Jesus had been glorified they remembered that these things were written about him and that they had done this for him. So the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from death continued to testify. This was [also] why the crowd went to meet him, because they heard that he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him” (John 12:12-19).
To the disciples on the road our Lord responded, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” There is the “and” of His story… He is both suffering servant and glorified king! At this point, Jesus got to work restoring their faith. He didn’t just point to His hands and feet this time as He did with Thomas. He rebuilt their faith from the ground up. Steeped in the teachings of their people, these two disciples knew well the messianic prophecies but they didn’t see the fulfillment in the midst of their broken reality. Jesus unpacked it for them. Here is the author explaining His story… all of history. Scripture doesn’t record His lesson for us… but don’t you wish it did? The coming of Christ didn’t change history. His life, death, and resurrection had been foretold long before His coming. In Him is fulfillment of what was promised. We tend to see an Old and New Testament divided from each other but they are not. They are one testament of God to His people with promise and fulfillment. God teaches us through faith and reason. Faith is built on reason because history proclaims the work and glory of God (Psalm 19). Faith without reason lacks foundation. Reason without faith lacks fulfillment. Like many things, these are often more easily understood in hindsight.
Luke records that Jesus started with Moses and interpreted all that the prophets had said about Him. What did Moses have to say about the Messiah? Remember that Moses gave his people the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible. Going back to Moses is going back to the beginning. With the hindsight of Church teaching, most of us should be able to recognize Christ in many of the Psalms, the Prophets, and much of the Old Testament. Jewish legal testimony requires two people to be in agreement to establish conclusive proof (Deut 19:15). Jesus told us the Father testified on His behalf (John 8:18)… that is the Old Testament proclaiming the prophecies of the Messiah. Here, Jesus lays out that testimony plainly to His disciples.
Rather than opening up a litany of prophecies that have been expounded on in other places, I want to focus on one prophecy in particular as it relates to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Leviticus 1-7 lays out multiple types of sacrifices in the Mosaic covenant. These offerings can be divided and subdivided in many ways but the major categories are the burnt offerings, the cereal offerings, the peace offerings, the sin offerings, and the guilt offerings. Peace offerings included the eating of a sacrificial meal and were the only sacrifices in which non-priests were permitted to share in the meal. An important subcategory of this peace offering was the todah offering described in Leviticus 7:11-15 (from CatholicCulture.com).
This is the ritual for the communion sacrifice that is offered to the Lord. If someone offers it for thanksgiving, that person shall offer it with unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes made of bran flour mixed with oil and well kneaded. One shall present this offering together with loaves of leavened bread along with the thanksgiving communion sacrifice. From this the individual shall offer one bread of each type of offering as a contribution to the Lord; this shall belong to the priest who splashes the blood of the communion offering (Lev 7:11-15).
Todah literally means “thanksgiving.” In addition to gratitude, it is also a song of praise. The todah offering was accompanied by an associated song, usually a psalm. The todah sacrifice was offered by a person whose life had been redeemed or delivered from great danger. There is a characteristic movement in todah songs… from lament to praise. We can see a great example of this in Psalm 22 which lays out the crucifixion of Christ from His perspective on the cross and ends in a triumphal song of praise. Each of these two portions is exactly one half of the psalm.
Under Mosaic Law, the Passover is a type of peace offering and todah sacrifice. We can see from the quote from Leviticus above that a peace offering may include leavened bread. However, if it is offered for thanksgiving that person shall offer it with unleavened bread. The Israelites were commanded to celebrate their deliverance from slavery in Egypt every year in the Passover sacrifice without end.
At our Lord’s Last Supper, He celebrated the Passover sacrifice as required by the Mosaic Law. It didn’t end with Him. According to the Mishnah—ancient rabbinical teaching—when the Messiah came, all sacrifices were to cease but one. The one sacrifice that would remain is the todah. As commanded, we carry this offering forward through the Greek term eucharistia which reflects the nature of thanksgiving—and was the Greek translation of the Hebrew word todah. Moses wrote a prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kindred; that is the one to whom you shall listen (Deut 18:15). Just as Passover recalled the Exodus from physical bondage in Egypt, the new Passover in Christ recalls our new Exodus from our bondage to sin.
Now if you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one’s works, conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb. He was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you, who through him believe in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:17-21).
Why is the above important? God commanded the Israelites to celebrate the Passover sacrifice forever. There will be no end. Jewish prophecy told of an end to sacrifices in the day of the Messiah… all except the todah sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The Passover has not ended. It continues in the Eucharist offering of Christ’s body and blood transubstantiated in unleavened bread and wine. It is a participation in the heavenly feast and the marriage banquet of Christ and His Bride, the Church. It is both foreshadowing of what will be and a participation here and now in the celebration of Heaven.
Back to Emmaus… As the disciples and Christ approached the village of their destination, Jesus gave the impression He intended to travel further. Why? He doesn’t impose Himself. If He is going to stay with the disciples it will be at their invitation, not His insistence.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20).
They did not recognize Jesus until He revealed Himself in the breaking of the bread. That was by design. Here is the Priest. Luke records that they were prevented from recognizing Him in His physical form until they encountered Him in the breaking of the bread. It was in praise and thanksgiving to God in the offering of love He gave us, that they recognized Him. When He ascended into Heaven, Jesus left our world in His human visage. What remains to us here is His offering of Himself in our communion with His Bride, the Church.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:30-31).
Here is our joy—our Lord and God revealed to us in His own body as a sacrificial offering of praise and thanksgiving! Even though I may be downcast walking in this valley of tears, can I be both sad and grateful at the same time? We are called to communion with Jesus where we receive His body and blood given up for us that we may live joyfully in the mystery. May we put aside our doubts and sadness and rejoice in His generosity and goodness. He came to live, to suffer, to die, and to rise that we may have life in its fullness with Him. Alleluia!