Yesterday we considered the first post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, using detail found only in John’s gospel. The encounter with Jesus that took place on the Road to Emmaus is recorded only by Luke. I love this encounter — Jesus meeting some disciples deep in conversation, but pretending for a moment to know nothing of the events of the past days as he asks what they’re discussing. Luke tells us that God kept them from recognizing him as they talked and journeyed together toward Emmaus. Jesus goes on at great length to explain every Messianic prophecy in the Hebrew Bible, showing how they all pointed to him and how the Messiah must die this way before being glorified. Of all the documents we have in the New Testament and all the accounts of the things that Jesus said and did, I wish these disciples had written down what Jesus had told them on this trip. Only one of them is called by name in this account, Cleopas. Apparently the name is a shortened form of Cleopatros, meaning “son of a renowned father”. Now that Jesus has already appeared first to the women, he now appears to some who were considered reliable witnesses — perhaps Cleopas had some standing in the community, who knows?
When they reach Emmaus, Jesus pretends he’s going on further, but stays with them and continues the conversation at their urging. Even better, it is only in the breaking of bread that they recognize Jesus — at which, Jesus disappears and they rush straight back to Jerusalem that night to find the eleven and tell them they’ve seen the risen Lord. Tradition, assumption, and Monty Python sketches notwithstanding, we don’t really know that only the twelve were present with Jesus at the Last Supper (though we can safely assume just one Christ and no kangaroos). The fact that the breaking of bread is so reminiscent of Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper and these disciples’ recognition of him in the act causes me to think maybe they were present in the upper room for that last Passover meal with Jesus and his friends. This would help make sense of the fact that Jesus seems to have so clearly pointed out Judas as a traitor yet the disciples don’t clue in. Perhaps the room was full of people, all having conversations here and there as often happens around a dinner table with many guests — there’s always more than one conversation going on, and people in one conversation will miss what’s going on in another. Maybe Jesus only whispered to John the little bit about the traitor being the one to whom he gave the dipped bread. maybe John looked across the table at Peter and mouthed the words, “Tell ya later!” How else do you explain this incident, the fact that Jesus tells them who the traitor is and the disciples still don’t know? We only had nine at dinner the other evening, and my wife still had to repeat three times that the sauce on the table was purchased at Costco. With each repeating, more people chimed in with the answer and it became something of a joke (and it really was good sauce). So perhaps these disciples, Cleopas & Co., had been in the upper room.
Then too, Jesus had become rather known for being a guy who loved a good dinner table. I wonder if he actually had a little extra bulge around the tummy? Of course he did a lot of walking, but still. He was known as a friend of gluttons and sinners because of whom he chose to dine with. How many times had these disciples seen Jesus at a dining table and shared extended conversations with him? Recognizing him in this context must have been perfectly natural — up until he vanished before the meal was consumed. This is uncharacteristic for a guy who loved a good meal with friends — but is still in keeping with the “secret” Jesus who told people to go tell so-and-so you’re healed, but nobody else. These guys were in on a secret, at least mostly. Just when they would have started with the rapid-fire questions, Jesus decides to split and come back later when he was ready to answer the questions he wanted to in the order he deemed most appropriate. Or something like that. This resurrected Jesus seems to like his games of guess-who-I-am and now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t. Maybe there was enough of a pause before the rapid-fire questions would have started and he just stared into their eyes for a second or two while they sat there gobsmacked. I wonder if they heard him laughing as his image faded before their eyes?
Pictured above is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio‘s painting of the meal at Emmaus, completed in 1606. It is his second treatment of the subject, his earlier one having been done five years earlier in 1601 (pictured at left). During the intervening years he had enjoyed success as an artist in Rome, but had killed a man over a dispute in 1606 and fled into exile… his second painting above was from his later period, and shows some notable differences to the first. It is much darker, less idealistic, with the figures appearing older, wiser. Perhaps this represents a personal shift in Caravaggio’s outlook from his younger self. I’m not sure what it says about me that I prefer the later version.
In any event, the disciples’ revelation of Christ in their midst in the breaking of bread is an enduring encouragement to me to find and experience Christ in the breaking of bread when celebrating the Eucharist. Not only then, but also in the sharing of meals together with others. Often at such times we find the presence of Christ among us as we share together bread and fellowship — and after all, this is one of the fundamental accomplishments he has made in his death and resurrection. We ought to be mindful of his presence among us in such contexts.
What do you see in the image of the meal at Emmaus? Which of Caravaggio’s works do you prefer, and why?