This week’s gospel reading is the fascinating story of Jesus’ appearance to two of His followers on the road to Emmaus just after His resurrection.
The two people, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple, were heading home after the Passover feast, and they were sad and confused. Sad because the man they thought would redeem Israel had been put to death by the religious leaders, and confused because some of the women disciples had reported that the tomb was empty and angels had announced Jesus was alive.
As the two friends walked, Jesus Himself came alongside and began to walk with them, but they did not recognize Him. Why didn’t they recognize Him? It’s hard to say. Maybe they had been crying and couldn’t see clearly. Maybe everyone’s head was covered to protect against the sun and the dust. Maybe they had only seen and heard Jesus from a distance and did not know what He looked like face to face. After all, Jesus rarely posted selfies on Instagram.
Anyway, to remedy their sadness and confusion, Jesus immediately began to explain the Scriptures. Well, not exactly immediately. The first thing He said to the two people was, “Oh, how foolish you are!” (Ouch, I hate it when the Creator of the Universe calls me a fool. But in my case, at least it happens only on days that end in “Y”.)
The gospel reading says, “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures.” That must’ve been quite a lecture, to have the Incarnate Word of God interpret the written Word of God.
In one of the key verses of the gospel reading, the two disciples 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?” (emphasis added).
The answer to spiritual sadness and confusion is to open the Scriptures. But it is important that the Scriptures be interpreted and explained by someone with knowledge and authority. The Bible is not a self-interpreting document.
I’m sure many people can relate to what I did about 30 years ago. Realizing finally that the Word of God is important, I picked up a Bible and started reading it like a Tom Clancy novel. I figured I would simply start with the first chapter, “Genesis,” and read it straight through to the last chapter, “Maps.”
I muddled through Genesis and Exodus, recognizing some of the famous stories about Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, etc. But when I got to all those tedious genealogies in Numbers, I couldn’t take it anymore. In total frustration, I put down the book and concluded two things: I was a moron, and the Bible was written only for theologians. (It turns out I was half right. The Bible was NOT written only for theologians.)
I was exactly like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts, chapter 8. (Well, not exactly. I’m not Ethiopian.) He was reading from the prophet Isaiah in the Scriptures. St. Philip said to him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” (Acts 8:30-31).
It’s imperative that all believers receive instruction in the Word of God. Thankfully, many Catholic parishes now hold regular Bible study classes. Also, there are new and exciting resources available online, such as Dr. Scott Hahn’s “St. Paul Center for Biblical Studies” (stpaulcenter.com); Formed.org, a terrific resource for Catholic information; and, of course, Mother Angelica’s miracle of faith, the popular EWTN media empire.
Whatever you do, don’t follow my example. The Bible definitely is not a Tom Clancy novel. Find a local parish Bible Study, or view some good Catholic videos online. The key is to make the commitment to OPEN THE SCRIPTURES. You’ll never regret it.