Saturday, March 2, 2013

Sola Scriptura on the Road to Emmaus

by Ryan

St. Martin of Tours, St. Gregory Chapel, Louisville, Kentucky

There are times in life that a word or idea won’t go away — what composer Richard Wagner might have called a leitmotif. If something reoccurs enough times, and you are already a bit of an odd ball, you begin to think: Surely, this is a sign. My sign? Emmaus.
  • A church's outdoor sign on the drive to my school, featuring the Emmaus Road Quartet. This Sunday only!
  • A fellow teacher asking me if I was attending an Emmaus Walk this year.
  • My latest Bible study taking me to Luke 24, where a passage about the road to Emmaus is found.
Well, Emmaus it is! I try my hardest to read each chapter in my Bible study as if I were reading it for the first time. My most recent study of Luke 24 unearthed something rather unexpected — a harrowing challenge to sola scriptura — the idea that any Christian can understand, without error, the things of God with the Bible and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is not my goal, however, to refute sola scriptura point by point (there is already abundant material available to that end), but rather to reflect on this reading and the aforementioned challenge it would seem to give the subscriber to that theological viewpoint.

St. Louis Bertrand, Louisville, Kentucky

The account of the road to Emmaus can be found at Luke 24:13-35. Two travelers (one who is named Cleopas) are returning to Emmaus from Jerusalem and are recounting amongst themselves the events of the last few days — involving Jesus, his death and seeming disappearance from the tomb. During their conversation, Jesus joins them on the road; the eyes of the disciples are obscured from recognizing their Savior. The next few lines of the story struck me as peculiar:
“Then he said to them, Too slow of wit, too dull of heart, to believe all those sayings of the prophets! Was it not to be expected that the Christ should undergo these sufferings, and enter so into his glory? Then, going back to Moses and the whole line of the prophets, he began to interpret the words used of himself by all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:25-27)
For the subscriber to sola scriptura, the following text must come as a shock — the disciples do not yet realize that Jesus is in their midst — they have not been brought to all understanding by hearing the scriptures. Even though their hearts “did burn at his words” (Luke 24:32), the glory of God remained concealed. An objection might be made on the grounds that the travelers did not yet have the Holy Spirit; indeed, that the Spirit did not yet have them. This objection would seem to be nullified when considering that it is God-Made Man, Jesus Christ, who was teaching the travelers, and even the Word of God from the Word-Made Flesh does not open the eyes of Cleopas and his companion. It is in the next turn of events where these disciples finally see:
"And then, when he sat down at table with them, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and offered it to them; whereupon their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and with that, he disappeared from their sight."(Luke 24:30-31)
This, to me, has to be the difficulty of difficulties in this passage: Jesus reveals himself through the appearance of bread. Not only that, but he uses a prayer formula very similar to that found in Luke 22:19. This Passover prayer is where he equates the bread with his body: "This is my body." Here, a handful of hours after his resurrection, Jesus seems to show us that his Passover sacrifice is in continuance — not as a repeated sacrifice, but the same sacrifice in perpetuity. It is in this re-presentation of the Passover meal that Cleopas and his companion meet Jesus; they come into contact with Christ in the flesh — not merely a symbol. What the scriptures anticipated, in mysterious and clouded ways, as “through a glass darkly” is now seen “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12) — the physical reality of Christ, revealed in simple bread. If the travelers met Jesus in this bread, then is it such a stretch to think that we, weary travelers on the road to life, still meet Jesus in this way?

St. Louis Bertrand, Louisville, Kentucky

So, are the scriptures then unimportant next to the glory of God manifested in this bread? I think that would create a false dichotomy — these things do not oppose each other, since they are both of Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God (the scriptures) and the Word-Made Flesh. The incident on the road to Emmaus shows us that these realities reside together, belong with each other, reveal each other. Indeed, it is these two ideas that we find bound together in the Mass. Or, as found in scripture under the appearance of marriage: “…what God, then, has joined, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6).

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