Rock, Shepherd, Gift
By Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus' disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
He asked them, "What are you discussing as you walk along?" They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?" And he replied to them, "What sort of things?" 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."
And he said to them, "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?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. 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.
Then they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?" So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, "The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!" Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
There are many beautiful aspects of our faith to ponder in today's readings. I invite you to glance at three: the rock, the shepherd and the gift.
First, let's take the opportunity to marvel at the transformation of St. Peter. A little more than 50 days before his exhortation recounted for us today in the Acts of the Apostles, we see Peter as his worst. Although chosen by Our Lord to be first among the apostles and given the new name of "Rock," Peter wilts before the bystanders in Caiaphas' courtyard two question him three times if he is a follower of Jesus. In those days, fear reigned in Peter's heart and continued to reign there. Following the tragic events of Good Friday, Peter and the apostles remain huddled in the Upper Room with the door locked for fear of the Jews.
In today's reading, Peter stands before the world as a brand-new creation. He approaches a great crowd of Jews in Jerusalem and speaks with remarkable conviction and confidence about Jesus. Furthermore, Peter chastises some of the Jewish leaders, "This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him. Bu God raised him up." It is beautiful to see that fear no longer grips Peter's heart. Rather, deep faith has taken over. Now Peter speaks of Christ with boldness and even rejoices when faced with persecution for the sake of his name.
Next, let's turn our gaze to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Following he resurrection, Jesus continues to seek out the lost and hurting sheep. On several occasions, Jesus actively pursues members of his flock who are mourning and deeply troubled, including Mary Magdalene, Peter and Thomas. In today's Gospel, Jesus goes after two of his disciples who are skipping town on the day of the resurrection. Several moments in this scene suggest that the two disciples were overcome with grief and had lost faith. For instance, Jesus draws near on their journey and asks them what they are discussing on the road. The stop immediately, "looking downcast." As they describe what they have been experiencing, they note: "But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel." Finally, they describe how some of the women were at the tomb of Jesus earlier in the morning, "but him they did not see." The Good Shepherd not only seeks them out, but also proceeds to set their hearts on fire as he interprets the Scriptures and reveals how many events and prophesies of the Old Testament referred to him. Finally, he stays with them at their request, sits down at table with them and ultimately reveals himself in the Breading of the Bread.
This leads me to my third point, the promised gift of the Eucharist. There were so many great events in both the Old and New Testaments that pointed to and prepared the world for Jesus' parting gift. In the Old Testament, we can point to the Paschal lamb, the cup of blessing, the manna in the desert and the temple sacrifices. In the New Testament, we can point to the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the transformation of water into wine and the Bread of Life discourse. If the Eucharist is truly the greatest gift that Jesus gave us because, quite simply, it is the very gift of himself for the rest of history, then it makes sense that it would play a prominent role in one of the post-resurrection appearances.
It remains puzzling that Jesus draws near to Cleopas and his companion, engages them in conversation and explains the Scriptures to them during a seven-mile walk, and they fail to grasp who is before they very eyes. It was not until they sit down to table that Jesus is revealed t them in the Breaking of Bread. They are so thrilled to make this discovery that they retrace their seven-mile journey back to Jerusalem in order to share the news with Jesus' disciples.
Lord Jesus, we thank you for the immeasurable blessing of the resurrection. Set our hearts on fire as we marvel at the transformation of Peter, your healing ministry as our Good Shepherd and the precious gift of your ongoing presence in the Eucharist.