Sometimes we just can’t see things that are right in front of our eyes. This seemed to be the case for the two disciples of Jesus who were walking to Emmaus on that first Easter Day. Even with the risen Jesus talking to them, they just couldn’t see what was going on. It took the sight of Jesus breaking bread for them to suddenly understand. Perhaps like Archimedes, they felt like shouting Eureka! (I have found it).
The readings on Wednesday at the 2pm service were Psalm 105:1-9, Acts 3:1-10, Luke 24:13-35. Read on for my reflection.
I remember one of the stories from my science lessons that really stuck with me was that of Archimedes. Hiero of Syracuse had a problem he wanted to solve. He had given some pure gold to a goldsmith to make a votive crown for a statue in a temple. He had his suspicions that the goldsmith had taken some of the gold for himself and replaced it with silver, being sure that the weight of the finished crown was the same as the weight of gold provided. The only way to prove if the metal was not pure gold was to calculate its density, i.e. how much a given unit of volume weighed. It was possible to weigh the crown but not to measure its volume as the volume was irregular.
This is where Archimedes, a Greek scholar, came in. On one occasion, while entering a bath, he suddenly noticed that as his body went into the water the level of the bath water rose. Realising that the water which was displaced must have the same volume as his body, Archimedes is reported to have shouted ‘Eureka!’ (I have found it). So excited was he at finding a way to solve Hiero’s problem by being able to measure irregular volumes, he is said to have leapt out of the bath and run through Syracuse naked in his eagerness to tell everyone what he had discovered.
Carl Gauss borrowed the term ‘Eureka’ for a mathematical discovery he made in 1796. He found that any whole number can be made from no more than three triangular numbers added together. For those who don’t know, a triangular number is one which when expressed as a set of dots forms a triangular shape. This discovery is now called Gauss’ Eureka theorem.
Perhaps Cleopas and his companion, whom some scholars think must have been his wife, could have borrowed this term also. Despondent, totally bereft of hope, they shared the story of the previous few days with the only person who could possibly have been unaware of it. As they walked on the 7 mile journey to Emmaus, they told this stranger how they had placed their hope for a messiah in Jesus, only to find that he was crucified by the authorities. Grudgingly they acknowledged that some women had found the tomb empty that day, but with no one having seen Jesus they seemed unwilling to believe that anything had happened to cheer them up.
They remained blissfully unaware of the identity of their companion even when Jesus exclaimed, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah* should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Patiently he took them through the books of the Bible, pointing out the passages that described the Messiah and what would happen to him. Even after this, nothing seemed to make sense of what they had experienced, although they later said, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us* while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’
It was only once Jesus was persuaded to stay with the two that they finally understood who he was. Seated at table, Jesus ‘took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them’. These actions are so similar to those when the five thousand were fed and when Jesus established the new covenant at the Last Supper. Perhaps the two disciples had witnessed either or both events. There is a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words and so it seemed on this occasion. All Jesus’ words of teaching on the road had failed to work but seeing his actions, suddenly the two disciples knew who was there with them. This was their ‘Eureka!’ experience, a time when sudden clarity came to them. Jesus immediately disappeared, leaving Cleopas and his companion to think back over their walk and begin to piece together what had happened with the benefit of hindsight.
Perhaps they felt a little foolish at their slowness in understanding who was with them. I suppose Jesus could have told them immediately who he was but he gave them the space they needed to express their doubts and disappointment. He listened as they explained the whole sorry story as they saw it. If Jesus is the same today as he ever was, he is still prepared to listen carefully to our doubts, pain and disappointment. So many people must have asked questions about God’s love as they witnessed personal tragedy, natural disasters or civil unrest in their countries such as continues in Syria. The injured, the bereaved, the homeless and traumatised will have questions. There is no need to hide doubt and complaint; God’s shoulders are broad enough to take it. Maybe like the father of the epileptic boy we need to be brave enough to own up: ‘Lord, I believe. Help me where faith falls short.’ Jesus responded to the disciples’ doubts and he will respond to ours.
Jesus was not one to hold back when it came to honest dealings with people. He called the Pharisees hypocrites and told them why he thought so. He called Peter Satan as he tried to deflect Jesus from his God given path. He came right out and told the woman by the well that the man she was living with was not her husband. He told Cleopas and his companion that they were foolish and slow to believe. He was not trying to protect their feelings but to get right to the central issue. If we are prepared to listen, Jesus will tell us how it is. He’ll find a way to show us that we’ve got it wrong. A verse from the Bible will jump out at us; a sermon will address an issue we’ve been thinking about; someone will say some throw-away comment and suddenly we will feel like shouting ‘Eureka!’ (though I don’t recommend that your rush naked into the streets of your town or city when it happens). Jesus may even use us to say something pretty blunt to someone else, which can be very uncomfortable but may be exactly what is needed. We fight shy of being critical as often as not, but if we are to be like our Lord, we will probably need to get over that worry.
As Jesus joined the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, so he will join us and walk with us through life. He’ll listen to our disappointments and our worries. He’ll point out our mistakes. Best of all, he will reveal himself to us as risen Lord, just as he was revealed in that house in Emmaus in the breaking of the bread.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor