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. - John Pilch
There are no less than 6 sites identified with Emmaus. Its Hebrew equivalent “Hammat” means warm spring. In a way I understand that people somehow want to “find” Emmaus. But to be honest, does it matter? Well, if scholars are right and Luke writes after the Jewish war then the trip these two are taking is peculiar indeed as it is a journey into a village now overrun with retired Roman legionnaires who spent four years utterly demolishing the political redemption of Israel. (24:21)
One of them is Clopas. Also curious. Eusebius writes concerning him:
After the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed, it is said that those of the apostles and disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions with those that were related to the Lord according to the flesh (for the majority of them also were still alive) to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James. They all with one consent pronounced Symeon, the son of Clopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention; to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Savior. For Hegesippus records that Clopas was a brother of Joseph.
Arguments abound when James is martyred. 63AD or 70AD but 70AD, at the end of the war, seems to be the preferred date. But it also seems that Clopas is the father of the 2nd Bishop of Jerusalem and an uncle of Jesus. Symeon seems to have been preferred by the elders in Jerusalem over Thebutis who had led a part of the Christian community out of Jerusalem during the war and into Pella, one of the cities of the Decapolis and thought to be the site of the earliest Christian church. Symeon was bishop of Jerusalem from 70 -107AD, when he too met martyrdom. History rocks.
One of the people who are going to Emmaus is a relative of Jesus. He is a relative, one excepted by the culture and code of the day to stick with him and give testimony to support him, because that is what family does, yet here he is stomping away, despondent, disappointed, and defeated.
Clopas angrily — the language suggests a heated conversation — walking to Emmaus is a difficult picture. If they are mad at themselves for putting their faith in Jesus, then it is a double betrayal in Clopas’ case. Family is to contend with the world at the gate on that family’s behalf. This is betrayal at a very fundamental level. Clopas, being related to Jesus, also gives us a hint at the living Jesus. Jesus’ own uncle did not recognize him. Whatever keeps these two disciples’ eyes from recognizing Jesus, it is profound and powerful. It is not said what exactly it is. Is it intentional and by the Lord’s will or is it the way the world treats the eyes of us all? Either way, the Gospel shows that the Lord has the power to conquer this grasp on human eyes.
And whereto are they stomping? To a place that is at the time of the writing of this history — yes, Luke insists that he is writing a history (1:14) — is the settlement of those who would have destroyed Jerusalem and the temple therein.
So, at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke we are in the temple with Zechariah, at the end we are leaving Jerusalem because, frankly, there is no reason to be there any longer. There is no temple. The settlers of Emmaus have seen to that. How will the children of Israel now turn to their Lord? (1:16) Where shall they find God now? How will they touch him? Where will they plea to the Lord for mercy? Where will they burn incense and intercede for the people? (1:9)
The settlers in Emmaus also were the same ones whose companies had carried out the deed a few days earlier when Jesus was crucified. This Jesus, was he not to redeem Israel? That did not happen, but then it was not all about Israel anyway and redemption is squishy term at best. But they had hoped for the redemption of Israel and had centered that hope in Jesus.
What and where is Emmaus and why are you heading there? The forces, things, and people that have and will destroy that which we hold sacred all settle somewhere in our world. They move in next door and have loud parties and the sheriff won’t come to help because outside of the city boundaries quiet hours are a matter of courtesy and not of law. In Emmaus they do not know the sacred and they are loyal to things you detest to the point that you will question your own loyalties. Will you retaliate? Will you join the wash of an ever cruder culture that surrounds you? Will you retain a sense of longing for what seems lost? In Emmaus, how do you see God? How do you plead for mercy and grace, how do you intercede for the people and how do you know anyone is listening? Where do Zechariah and you burn your incense?
And your eyes? In Emmaus they see but they do not recognize. (Augustine) There are two cries of desolation in the last two chapters of Luke: “We had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel,” and “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The latter points the former to what happens next: The breaking of the bread where seeing becomes recognizing. The thief calls to the saints to recognize and believe. (Augustine)
Here in Emmaus bread is broken and a story is remembered in that action, Jesus, who is seen but not recognized, becomes recognized. The plea of the thief becomes the plea of those who stumble around in Emmaus. He was broken for us. The bread is broken for us. Jerusalem is gone. Zechariah goes to the temple no more. He does not have to. “So, if you are a believer, if you don’t come to church pointlessly, if you listen to the word in fear and hope, you may take comfort in the breaking of the bread. The Lord’s absence is not absence. Have faith, and the one you cannot see is with you.” (Augustine)