On Easter morning, two disciples were traveling on the road to Emmaus. Leaving Jerusalem, they were downcast and disappointed over what had happened to Jesus. They did not understand the stories of the women who said that they had seen him early that morning. As the disciples were walking away from the holy city, Jesus came and walked alongside them.
As in the other resurrection appearances, the disciples did not recognize Jesus. And, as in the other appearances, Jesus did not reveal himself immediately. Instead, he walked with these two disciples and engaged them in conversation. They expressed their frustration and sorrow over the events of Good Friday. One of them, named Clopas, said:
“‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?’ And (Jesus) 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’” (Lk 24:18-21).
Continuing, Clopas explained about the testimony of the women and how strange it all had been. Having only heard the women’s account, the disciples did not know what to make of the disappearance of the body. No one understood what resurrection from the dead even meant.
Jesus listened patiently, but instead of nodding in an understanding way, he turned their sorrow on its head — to their shock and our surprise — saying, “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?” (Lk 24:25-26).
Jesus explained that it was actually necessary that the Messiah would undergo the suffering of the Passion and crucifixion. He does this by walking the disciples through the Old Testament. The evangelist writes: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures” (Lk 24:27).
At this point, of course, there was no New Testament as we have today, so “all the scriptures” referred to here are only the writings of the Old Testament. The apostles and disciples had only the Greek and Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament, along with their own experience of being with Jesus and watching him suffer and die. Without Jesus’ help, they could not make the connections between what happened to Jesus and the writings of Moses and the prophets.
What Jesus did on the road to Emmaus was interpret the writings of the Old Testament in terms of their relationship to his incarnation, passion, death and resurrection — all of which fulfilled the Old Testament. They were predicted, and everything that happened to Jesus was there, albeit hidden from the disciples’ understanding. Jesus opened their minds and hearts to see his life and death in the light of the Old Testament. Without the Old Testament, the life, teaching and sacrificial death of Jesus would be incomprehensible.
The Church in every age has followed Jesus’ example on the road to Emmaus, upholding the value of the inspired Hebrew and Greek writings that prepared for the coming of Jesus. The apostles passed on the fullness of God’s revelation by showing reverence to the Old Testament, while composing the writings we now call the New Testament.
The Old Testament is a part of God’s Revelation and finds its fulfillment in Jesus. Additionally, there is a principle of continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament, such that the two must never be separated. From St. Augustine, the Church still holds this classic maxim: the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are God’s word, all part of God’s Revelation, in which he shows forth who he is and who we are in relation to Him. Jesus taught this on the road to Emmaus, and his exposition of the Scriptures set the hearts of the disciples on fire.
Sister Anna Marie McGuan, RSM, is director of Christian formation in the Diocese of Knoxville.