Leaving Jerusalem
Leaving Jerusalem

Leaving Jerusalem

Third Sunday of Easter. Fr Gregory Murphy considers how the resurrection opens our eyes to the truth.

Luke’s story of Jesus reaches its climax when he triumphantly enters Jerusalem, is betrayed and executed, and rises from the dead – God’s vindication of Jesus, his life, works and teaching. Yet Cleopas and his companion (anonymous, in the story, perhaps his wife, some speculate, perhaps any disciple) have given up. On the third day they turn their backs on Jerusalem and go home, despondent. As they go, they fall into conversation with a stranger who meets them, accompanies them. They themselves are obsessed with the ruin of their hopes, the ignominious destruction of the one they had hoped would be the saviour of Israel. And yet, they had heard the news of the resurrection of Jesus, the women finding the tomb empty, the angelic message that ‘he is not here, he is risen’ – but this they dismiss. Women were not, in that culture, accepted as reliable witnesses, and as for ‘a vision of angels’ … they almost come across as enlightenment sceptics. They have the essential facts but lack a context with which to interpret them. That context is supplied by their companion, who ‘opens to them the scriptures’.

What emerges in today’s gospel is a paradoxical relationship between the risen Jesus and the Jewish scriptures. On the one hand, it takes the risen Jesus to explain the meaning of the text. He is the critical interpreter, who teaches the nascent church how to read the scriptures and how to discern there God’s intentions. Only in light of Easter does the divine story make sense. On the other hand, an understanding of the scriptures is critical to recognising who Jesus is and to grasping the import of what he has done. His death and resurrection are to be seen in a perspective broader than trials before Pilate and Herod, Roman gallows, and the empty tomb. We have to go back to Moses and the Prophets to get the full picture.

Jesus breaks bread with the two companions. The experience of eating precipitates recognition. But Luke expresses this in the passive voice ‘their eyes were opened’ implying divine, not human action is in play: this recognition does not come mechanically, nor is it the end product of an intellectual or existential search by the seeker. It is the gift of God, a self-revelation by which God honours promises made long ago to the covenant people. The interpretation of the scriptures and the breaking of bread appropriately go together, then as now. The church is composed of those who have been led beyond disbelief to faith by the gracious revelation of God.

What was the erstwhile disciples’ mistake? Perhaps we can get a clue from Jesus’ final prayer in Gethsemane, just before his arrest. He had told us that he, and his followers, are both in and yet – crucially – not of the world. While recoiling humanly from the torment of the coming Passion – the world’s reckoning – his will, human and divine, remains resolutely set on doing the will of his Father, the will of God, not the wisdom of the world. And this maybe is where Cleopas and his friend go wrong. They are so fixated on their notion of what the Messiah should be – in worldly terms – that they cannot recognize the wonders God has worked in the resurrection of Jesus, his ‘yes’ trumping humanity’s ‘no’. The wandering (lost?) disciples immediately return to Jerusalem. Arriving full of their news they find from the others that ‘the Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon’.

How often do we find that the demands of the Lord, of discipleship, are too much for us? We, too, often leave Jerusalem, refusing the cost of discipleship, or unable to perceive what God is asking of us in our turbulent times. But the story of the two on the road to Emmaus tells us that Jesus always comes to meet and walks with his disciples, especially those who wander and are lost. He opens the scriptures to us, shares his life with us in the breaking of bread, and leads us home, rejoicing, to the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem.

Readings: Acts 2:14,22-33 | 1 Peter 1:17-21 | Luke 24:13-35

Fr Gregory Murphy is currently engaged in parochial ministry and teaching in the Diocese of Dunkeld.

Comments (3)

  • Ivo Taryu

    Very lovely interpretation

  • Catherine

    Thank you for this, Father.

  • Barbara Ren

    Thank you Fr Gregory. At times I am also unable to perceive what God is asking of me. 🙏🏻


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