My dear readers, we have entered the month of Nisan – the first month of the Biblical calendar – and of course, this month is all about Passover: both the first Passover and the Passover week 2000 years ago. However, since the current format of this blog doesn’t allow me several articles, I’ve chosen to write about one of my favorite stories in the Scripture: the Road to Emmaus. A few weeks ago, after my lecture, somebody asked, “But how and why did the disciples recognize Jesus in the end?” Let us try to unfold this story.
First, let us go back to the Last Supper. Just a couple chapters earlier, we saw Jesus and his disciples approaching the Holy City. Jerusalem was swarming with people who had come for Passover. Every house had additional guests, and every room was packed, yet Jesus seemed strangely unconcerned about a place to eat the Passover meal. Confidently, He told His disciples, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters.” How did Jesus know they would meet a man with a water jar? A man with a water jar was a very unusual sight, as this was ordinarily women’s work. Why would a man be carrying a water jar in Jerusalem?
The only group of Jewish men that traditionally did carry water jars were Essenes. Since Essenes were mostly celibate, their men did women’s work. Therefore, a man carrying a water jar could only have been an Essene. Essenes had their communities, not only in Qumran but in various towns. They also had a community in Jerusalem. Josephus tells us that one of the gates of Jerusalem was called “the Gate of the Essenes”. Apparently, it was through this gate that they entered their community. From Jesus’s words, his disciples understood they had to enter Jerusalem through the Essene’s gate. Since Essenes used a different calendar, their guest rooms were not packed for the Passover yet. That’s why the Teacher knew that a room would be available for the Last Supper.
Thus, the Last Supper was probably taking place in the Essene guest room. Several texts from Qumran describe such common meals and the rules applied to these meals: “When the table has been prepared for eating, and a new wine for drinking, the Priest shall be the first to stretch his hands to bless the first fruits of the bread and new wine.” We know that during the Last Supper, Jesus was the one who blessed the bread and the wine: “He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Since they had this meal within the Essene community, while breaking and blessing the bread, Jesus could have been perceived as the Essene Priest and Messiah. Therefore, He is making sure to tell them that He is not a Priest or a Messiah of the Essene concept: He is linking this breaking of the bread to what was to come, to His impending suffering (even though they did not understand that yet)—something the Messiah of the Essenes would not do: When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Thus, during the Last Supper, Jesus made a statement: I am not a messiah of the Essenes, I am a different Messiah. You don’t understand it now, but very soon you will understand what kind of Messiah I am.
Now, back to the Emmaus story—we are told that “they drew near to the village where they were going.” After the two disciples constrained Yeshua, “He went in to stay with them”. We don’t know whether it was their home village or the house of their friends – but in a sense, it doesn’t matter. Sharing meals and hospitality have always been a very important part of Jewish community life. At the beginning of the meal, the traditional blessing is always said, as the bread is broken: “Barukh attah ‘Adonai ‘elohenu Melekh ha-olam ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz“—”Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
Since it was the Passover week, it would have been matzah, not a regular bread, so the Blessing on Matzah would have been added: “Blessed are You, our Lord God, King of the Universe who makes us holy through Your commandments, and commands us to eat Matzah.” The one, who recites the blessing, does so while literally breaking the bread, exactly as we are told Yeshua did. In this sense, it was a traditional Jewish meal of Chol Ha-Moed (Passover week). Or was it?
In the Babylonian Talmud, we read, “The host should break bread” (Berakoth 46). In Jewish tradition, the host— the head of the household—is the one who always says the blessing and breaks the bread. Any strangers invited to the meal, usually wait for directions from their host and quietly receive what is set before them.
However, that is not what we see here. Clearly, this was not a regular guest! Instead of waiting for his host’s direction, we see this ‘stranger’ taking the host’s place: He is the one who says the blessing and breaks the bread! We can imagine that this behavior must have caught the attention of everyone in the house. Where did this authority come from?
Here I would like to turn again to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Qumran Sectarians believed in the eternal Savior (they probably believed it was Melchizedek), who came as man and was known to them as the Teacher of Righteousness. The Teacher of Righteousness was a Priest. In the same fragmentary document that we quoted already, 1QSa, we read: [the Mess]iah of Israel shall [enter] … and [no-one should stretch out ] his hand to the first fruit … before the Priest, for [he is the one who b]lesses the first-fruit of the bread and of the new wine …
No-one should stretch out his hand to bless the bread: this means that, in the days of Jesus, there was an understanding (at least, in some circles), that when the Messiah comes, no one should stretch out his hand to bless the bread before Him. The authority to bless the bread always belonged to the host—UNLESS the Messiah was present. And when, in our story, this stranger acted in the house as one that had authority, we can imagine that, even though the eyes of the disciples were still restrained, their hearts that had been burning along the way were now filled to the brim with excitement and anticipation. This stranger stretched his hands and blessed the bread – and to them, this behavior was a definite sign of His messianic dignity. Then we read: Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
The transition that we witness here is from the messiah visible, but not recognized— to the messiah recognized, but invisible. In this sense, the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel symbolizes the whole message and provides an excellent transition from the first volume to the second volume of his writing: from Messiah visible but hidden, to Messiah revealed but invisible. Luke’s is the only Gospel that has the story of Emmaus, and I believe he wants us to see that the disciples don’t recognize Jesus while he is with them and visible to their eyes, but that their eyes are opened and they recognize him only when He disappears from their visible sight.
 Luke 22:10
 Luke 22:17,19
 Luke 22:14,15
 Luke 24:28
 1Qsa, column 2, lines 18-21.
 Mark 1:22
 Luke 24:30-31
 My book “As though hiding his Face” discusses in depth this transition and the fact that Jesus had to be the “Hidden Messiah” for Israel.
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