Perhaps those who have lost a loved one to the brutality of terrorism or war can begin to understand the disorientation and paralysis of two traumatized disciples on their way to Emmaus on the Sunday after Jesus’ crucifixion (Luke 24:1-35). Drained by the horror of Friday, confused by reports of Christ risen, the two apparently were on their way home. They “stood still, looking sad” when a stranger asked what they were discussing.
Not recognizing the traveler as Jesus, the disciple named Cleopas snapped back, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days? . . . We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Religious leaders of Jerusalem had conspired to eliminate the man many thought would redeem Israel from foreign occupation.
When armed revolt against Rome actually came a generation later (AD 66-70), Jewish rebels melted down Roman coins with their blasphemous images of “divine” emperors. Using the very term redemption that was the hope of the travelers to Emmaus, rebels minted new coins that read, “for the redemption of Zion.”
What I would give to have heard Jesus’ biblical exposition of the redemption of his people! Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Luke says, he interpreted to his fellow travelers the things about himself in all the scriptures. “Were not our hearts burning within us?” the two disciples said later.
How ancient and modern nationalists of Israel, and patriots of every nation, need our Lord’s interpretation of scripture! Beat swords into plowshares, love the enemy, forgive, do justice, love mercy, and embrace kingdom ethics. Peacemakers can use the whole of scripture–even violent passages–when we refract our reading through Jesus.
The two on their way to Emmaus invited the stranger to lodge at their destination. It was when Jesus blessed and broke bread at table that “their eyes were opened, and they recognized” the Lord before he vanished. Death is not the end for followers of the risen Lord. The two disciples rushed back to Jerusalem to report incredible news to the other disciples. There Jesus himself appeared among them, and his first words were, “Peace be with you.”
A Palestinian driver took three of us modern travelers to possible sites of ancient Emmaus: Nicopolis (seventeen miles west of Jerusalem), and El-Qubeibeh (seven miles). Nicopolis seems too far for the round trip hike that Luke describes. Biblical Emmaus likely was at modern El-Qubeibeh, now a Palestinian town.
There in a gated churchyard a short stretch of Roman road remains. In late afternoon I photographed my fellow travelers on the Emmaus road. I thought we were alone on the church grounds, and only later noticed a mysterious figure in the photo behind my companions. Jesus appears on the road at unexpected times and places!
© 2017 J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************
Come with my wife Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour accessible even to non-athletes like myself. Dates are May 14-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Details are still pending but we likely also will hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route, and more. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/