The Emmaus story is a story of developing faith. As the two disciples walk home after Passover, their hearts are troubled and downcast. Luke signals this first of all by telling us that they are walking to Emmaus, a town that sat sixty stadia (seven miles) east of Jerusalem. They are, therefore, walking into the darkness as the sun sets in the west.
The disciples themselves freely admit to their traveling companion whom they do not recognize that they are disheartened by the events they have just witnessed in Jerusalem. Those events have been followed by a story that they simply cannot believe. Some of the women in their number have reported that Jesus has been raised from the dead!
As the story unfolds, we see them move from darkness to light, reversing their course and heading back to Jerusalem, back in the direction of the light. Jesus has first helped them to understand what has happened in the light of their Scriptures. Then he sat at the table with them and revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread.
The faith of these two disciples has been strengthened through a reflection on the Scriptures and through the breaking of the bread. We see them move from unbelief to belief, from doubt to faith. Perhaps this story has become one of the most beloved of the Resurrection stories because we can readily see ourselves in the story. We believe, yet we pray with the disciples: Increase our faith (Luke 17:5b).
I am sure that we have all found it difficult to believe every story that we have been told. How many times have we said, "That's unbelievable"? How many times have we questioned whether we were being told the truth? In the case of these two disciples, the story of the Resurrection has come to them when they are deeply disturbed, deeply disheartened to begin with. Though we have often referred to Thomas as "doubting," I have never heard anyone call Cleopas and his wife "doubting" disciples. Yet that is just what they are. I suspect that subconsciously we all have such doubts.
When the disciples asked Jesus to "increase" their faith, that request came immediately after he had told them that they had to forgive someone seven times in one day. Can we imagine doing anything more difficult?
Faith is a gift. That gift, like any other, must be unwrapped to be fully appreciated. While the presents under the Christmas tree might look very appealing wrapped in glittering paper, the gifts cannot be fully appreciated until they are opened. I don't think it is stretching the analogy too far to say that the gift of faith must also be unwrapped. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it must be developed. The Gospel passage for today suggests that the way to develop our faith in Jesus is by reflecting and praying with the Scriptures and by breaking bread together. Each time we gather around the Table of the Lord, this is exactly what we do. Is it any wonder that the Church asks us to regularly gather on the first day of the week? Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, we need to allow Jesus to "increase our faith."
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator