The Unknown Jesus - The Journey to Emmaus and Back
a Homily by
Petros Theodoros Presbeftes

This morning's Resurrection Gospel calls to mind the constant struggle that men and women have with finding the genuine Jesus Christ, whom we adore and whom we worship.  This reading comes from the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 24.  Now, we could just as well begin our inquiry with verse one where we learn that our Lord, who had died on the Cross, just three days earlier, had indeed risen from the dead. 

The Discovery:  "On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered in to the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise." And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them."  Now, let us pause to reflect on what we have just heard.  The eleven apostles of our Lord heard the words of account from Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary (the mother of James), and the other women with them; and, these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe!  Can we just imagine the tremendous impact of that statement?  The very apostles, who each gave their lives over to the message of the Good News of Christ's Resurrection: each one of them did not believe!  The Gospel continues, "But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home wondering at what had happened."  Why do you think we are hearing this about the very Apostle Peter: that he wondered at what had happened?  Was his heart so full of unbelief that he could, at this time, deny the Resurrection of Christ by denying the impact of what he had just seen?  The evidence of his sight ought to have been conclusive that what he had just heard from the accounts of the Myrrh-bearing women had rung true by the sight of those linen cloths lying by themselves which had wrapped the Body of our Lord!  But, instead of this, Peter expressed doubt over what he had seen with his own eyes, and refused to believe what he had been told by the Myrrh-bearers! 

Now, let us fast-forward to the Resurrection Gospel reading that we heard this morning.  Here, we find two of them on their way to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem.  These two were talking about all the things which had recently come to pass about our Lord.  While they were talking, Jesus drew near to them.  But, their eyes were unable to recognize the slightest possibility of Jesus living and breathing again!  Joining in on the discussion, Jesus asked them, "What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?" At this point, Jesus could very well have expected them to recognize Him! Yet, it is also true that Jesus, being God-Man, knowing the hearts of the creatures whom He had fashioned, knew the spiritual blindness of these two men.  So, he patiently asked them of what they were conversing.  In their blindness, they still looked sad, and one of them, named Cleopas, answered Him: "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?"  Now, consider this and imagine asking your Lord that question.  Would you have posed such a question and failed to recognize Him?  Is the thought of one risen from the dead just a bit fearsome?  So, we see these two men in denial and busy being morbid in their sadness, just as, perhaps we all could be capable of such; manifesting unbelief.  Ah, the infinite patience of our Lord.  Could you be that patient, too?  Even so, our Lord has patience that is beyond understanding, and this next exercise of patience is astounding in what we are about to consider from what comes next in the Gospel account: Our Lord, the One Who had suffered on the Cross for them and for us, now asks them, "What things?"  And in reply, they said to Him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people..."  Now consider what they just told their Creator!  Is that not what certain false teachers expound today?  Do we not hear this from Islam and Israel, from people that just cannot believe at this time, but, who should be able to see the light of Truth expressed in the Logos of God?   Who were these two men talking to?  None other than their Creator!  They said to their God-Creator, Himself, that the One Whom they followed was merely just a prophet!  Can you imagine doing or saying that?  Of course, we all can imagine persons doing that.  It is a part of our failure to have a believing heart.  How many of us would be able to stand, when confronted with the possibility that we might have to die because of our Faith in Christ Jesus?

So, they said to Him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened..."  Was there a hint of impatience expressed by these two men?  They were, in essential fact, saying that our Lord failed to timely fulfill His promise of rising from the dead!  ...Essentially having the chutzpah to actually tell Him, "You're late!"  What stiff-necked display this was on their part.  Then expressing more of their unbelief, they continued, "Moreover, some women of our company amazed us..."  So, we could hear next the famous dialogue of the grand private-eye: "This is utterly amazing Holmes!  Elementary, my dear Watson!"  So, the sorry narrative goes yet further, as the Gospel tells us, "They, (the Myrrh-bearing Women), were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive..."  Well, now, the testimony of women, we all know, was usually deemed as being wholly unreliable.  The "wise" apostles were not that easily fooled as to actually think that their Lord, and our Lord, had actually been found alive, were they?  Wink, Nod, Wink.  Naught, nobody could be that gullible now, could they?!  Well, now these eleven apostles appointed some of the trusted among them to check out this "story" they had heard from these "unreliable" women.  They were saying to themselves, it is evident, "we have to nip this in the bud before it gets out of hand!"  Well, what do you know that they found when they checked it out?  The Gospel tells us, "Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see."  Far from confirming their unbelief, a mystery of great proportions had indeed been presented to the eleven apostles.  They were not willing to trust their eyes, or the other disciples of our Lord, of the female variety!  Yet, they could not discount, any longer, the account they had heard from the Myrrh-bearing women.

So, the account continues in today's Resurrection Gospel reading expounded by St. Luke:  "And he (Jesus) said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself."  By now, you would think that these two men had enough exposure to this "unknown man", that they might finally recognize Him!  But, you would be wrong if you thought that.  The Gospel account concludes with these words: "So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; ..."  See here, how our Lord chastised them because of their unbelief and unwillingness to open the eyes of their hearts to Him, so as to accept the magnificence of what He had done for them, and you, and me?  It is of course evident that the burning in their hearts was a manifest evidence of their contrition and sorrow for having had such a heart of unbelief, and also a warning of the judgment of condemnation that surely is the result of unbelief. So, the Gospel continues its account by telling us that these two men, Cleopas and Simon Peter "returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread."  But doubt died hard in Thomas, the apostle, and that is another story for us to consider at a later time.

It is interesting to note that there seems to be some controversy among Bible students regarding the identities of the two sojourners of Emmaus.  We are told that these two were apostles for it says, "That very day, two of them..."  Then, later on, one of them is identified as Cleopas, the one who first speaks with our Lord in his risen, living body.  Yet, there is another traveling companion who is not immediately identified.  Indeed, some would say that the second apostolic traveler was never identified, but, it isn't until verse thirty-four that we learn the identity of that other traveler, and he is one important apostle, you might say, the most important for this discourse, for he was the only apostle to deny Him three times: none other than Simon Peter.  How do we know this?  Well, we have two reliable sources.  St. Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, provides us in Chapter 15, the information that Simon Peter was the first male apostle to see our Lord risen from the dead.  St. John Chrysostom confirms this tradition in his commentary on the First Corinthians epistle by saying:

"Why did He not appear to all at the same time?  That He might first sow the seeds of faith. For he that saw Him first and was exactly and fully assured, told it unto the residue: then their report coming first placed the hearer in expectation of this great wonder, and made way before for the faith of sight. Therefore neither did He appear to all together, nor in the beginning to many, but to one alone first, and him the leader of the whole company and the most faithful: since indeed there was great need of a most faithful soul to be first to receive this sight. For those who saw him after others had seen him, and heard it from them, had in their testimony what contributed in no small degree to their own faith and tended to prepare their mind beforehand; but he who was first counted worthy to see Him, had need, as I have said, of great faith, not to be confounded by a sight so contrary to expectation. Therefore he appears to Peter first. For he that first confessed Him to be Christ was justly also counted worthy first to behold His resurrection. And not on this account alone doth He appear to him first, but also because he had denied Him, more abundantly to comfort him and to signify that he is not despaired of, before the rest He vouchsafed him even this sight and to him first entrusted His sheep. Therefore also He appeared to the women first. Because this sex was made inferior, therefore both in His birth and in His resurrection this first tastes of His grace." Homily Thirty-Eight, St. John Chrysostom, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. XII, Early Church Fathers.

How do we reconcile all that we heard today in our modern times?  Do many of us see Christ today, in the light of His Divinity?  It is hoped that we do!  It is also hoped that we will share our belief with others in the knowledge that all the Apostles died for their faith and their eye-witness testimony concerning the gifts which we may all partake when we know our Lord personally and that we know Him as our God.  It is irrational to deny Christ as our Saviour, because He is truly the Living, Breathing, God-Man!  King of Kings, and Lord of Lords!  Alleluia.