Column: Jesus turns the tables on his unsuspecting disciples

by Father Mike Stubbs

Third Sunday of Easter Lk 24: 13-35

Business or pleasure? That question often greets a person going on a trip in our day and age.

However, at the time of Jesus, travel presented many more dangers than it does now.

One would only travel for serious reasons. It was always business, never pleasure. On the surface, Sunday’s Gospel story about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Lk 24:13-35, may sound like a springtime stroll through the countryside on a Sunday afternoon. But there is more to it than that.

The Gospel reading designates Emmaus, a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, as the destination, but does not provide the reason why the disciples were making that journey. Was it their home, to which they were returning after the failure of their master’s mission? Or, were they taking shelter there — only temporarily — to escape any fallout from their master’s execution? The Gospel reading never says.

Artwork and tradition frequently suggest that second option, in showing the two disciples stopping at an inn for supper in the evening and inviting the stranger, who is Jesus in disguise, to join them. That is certainly a possibility.

But it is worthwhile to explore the first option — that the two disciples have returned to their home in Emmaus.

After all, their invitation to Jesus goes beyond the offer of a meal. They say to him, “Stay with us.” That means a bed to sleep in that night. That suggests that the two disciples have arrived home and are inviting Jesus to stay in their house. They are not offering to pay for a room at the local inn.

In any case, the two disciples are assuming the role of hosts. The unnamed stranger, who turns out to be Jesus, is their guest.

But when they sit down for supper, Jesus switches the roles: “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” In taking the bread, Jesus takes the role of host and turns the two disciples into guests.

In the relationship between host and guest, the host holds the upper hand; he has control of the situation. In flip-flopping the roles of host and guest, Jesus has taken control of the situation. The two disciples thought that they were in charge. But Jesus reveals to them that he is in charge. He is Lord.

At that moment, he also reveals to them that he is the risen Lord: “With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”

A similar dynamic takes place when we celebrate the Eucharist. We assume that we are in charge. After all, we built the church. We pay for the electricity to turn on the lights. We bring up the gifts of bread and wine. We invite Jesus to be our guest.

But then he switches the roles. He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to us. Our eyes are opened and we recognize him as the Lord. He is the host, who has invited us to the banquet of life. He is the one in charge.

Father Stubbs is the pastor of
St. Francis de Sales Parish, Lansing.

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