Over Lent, several of you enjoyed the series we did on Common Misconceptions, the stuff we get wrong that might actually effect our lives and our relationship with God and each other. We talked a lot about the spiritual mechanics of death; about how we don’t turn into angels and that Wendy Bradley poem that goes “God looked around His garden and saw an empty space” and how God doesn’t kill off our loved ones for His own benefit. A lot of what we get wrong, now and throughout the ages, comes from misreading the Bible, or reading it alone without our community, or just plain not knowing our Scripture well enough. I’m as guilty as anybody else, by the way, which is why I keep working on it.
Our Gospel story today, commonly called “The Road to Emmaus” has caused a bunch of problems, all because of the beforementioned issues. Our heroes “were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus when the risen Jesus joined them, seemingly out of nowhere, opened their eyes to the Scriptures, and then revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread.”1
Where exactly is Emmaus? I love Biblical archeology, as it so often illuminates history in fulfilling ways. Also, “this question helps move our reflection still further as we explore the “correct” understanding of Scripture. Pilgrims to modern-day Israel are shocked to learn that as many as six sites are identified as “Emmaus.” Here are the four more popular ones.
(1) Latrun. The tradition of identifying this place as Luke’s Emmaus reaches back to the historian Eusebius (330). The Byzantine tradition never doubted this identification, but it seems to have been forgotten when a plague wiped the village out in 639.
(2) Abu Ghosh. This is the village on the Jaffa road where the ark of the covenant rested for twenty years (at the time of Samuel…The crusaders, our embarrassingly ignorant, Christian, warrior-ancestors in the faith, did not know about Latrun. So in typical crusader style, they measured 60 stadia from Jerusalem and identified the nearest village as Emmaus.
(3) Qubeiba. Between 1114 and 1164, the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre founded a village here to intensify the agriculture of the region from which they drew sustenance. As frequently happens in the Holy Land, later pilgrims assumed this place was related to the life of Christ, and since it was sixty stadia from Jerusalem, they identified it as Emmaus.
(4) “Most probable” Emmaus. After the Jewish War against Rome in 66-70 C.E., Vespasian assigned eight hundred discharged veterans to live in a place called “Emmaus,” located about thirty stadia, or four miles, from Jerusalem. Their encampment completely overshadowed the little town, and the site was given the name (until recently) Qoloniya. Abandoned in 1948, it was located near contemporary Motza. The round trip between Jerusalem and this place is sixty stadia, or about seven miles, half of this being a very plausible distance allowing the disciples to get up from table right after supping with Jesus and to return immediately to Jerusalem (Lk 24:33).”2
This brief archaeology and geography lesson suggests that we need to read the Bible carefully and with open hearts and minds; to, as the Collect says, “read, learn, and inwardly digest” our Scripture, lest we, on the road to our Emmauses, arrive at the wrong destination. That’s why, in the Prayers of the People, we pray that all Bishops and other ministers may “by their life and doctrine,” set forth God’s true and holy Word, lest I lead you to that wrong Emmaus.
“Jesus was able to “correct” the misunderstanding of his followers only because they were already familiar with the Scripture…”3 Jesus didn’t implant Scriptural knowledge, He opened to them Scriptural understanding.
It works the same way for us; knowing our Bible, reading, learning, and inwardly digesting that story, our story, is an integral part of how we know who we are and who God is, and if we ask Jesus to walk alongside us as we learn, He will open our hearts and minds to understand the great mysteries of God, the mysteries of life. Let’s walk that road to Emmaus together, shall we?
1John J. Pilch, http://liturgy.slu.edu/3EasterA043017/theword_cultural.html