Third Sunday of Easter
Today in the liturgy the famous story of the disciples of Emmaus is read. A story from Luke’s Gospel. The disciples of Emmaus ‘recognise Jesus at the breaking of the bread’. To understand that word we must keep in mind that by far the most of Jesus’ disciples were considered as impure by his orthodox mates of time. No upright Jew should break his bread with one of them. By inviting somebody at my table, and by breaking my bread with him/her I consider this person as my brother/sister. No orthodox Jew of that time would ever do that with one of Jesus’ disciples. But this orthodox man did! He was an orthodox indeed for he knew the Scriptures very well. And he broke the bread with these two ‘impure’ men. Nobody did that. Only Jesus did. But he died at the cross two days ago. So, who was this man? ‘And they recognised Jesus at the breaking of the bread...’ with them; making them to his brothers!

Matthew doesn’t tell that story. The picture of Jesus’ meal with the tax collectors might be a suitable replacement.

Matthew 9:10-13
9:10 Now while he was at table in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples.
9:11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, 'Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?'

Just before this meal Jesus called the tax collector Matthew to follow him. Was it in Jesus’ house that they had the meal together? In that case Jesus made the tax collectors, public sinners, to his brothers. Or was it in Matthew’s house that Jesus shared the meal with him? In that case Jesus allowed himself to be considered the brother of this tax collector. That is exactly what the Pharisees say to his disciples. Why did they say that to his disciples? Why not to Jesus himself?

The orthodox Jews called Jesus ‘a friend of tax collectors and sinners’ (Matthew 11,19). And that was for sure not meant as a compliment. But it was exactly what Jesus had in mind from the beginning of his public life. The first thing we hear about him is that he wanted to be baptised by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13). A baptism of repentance. Quite surprising for somebody who was presented to us as the coming Messiah, the Son of God (Matthew 1:1). He sought the companionship of sinners, the companionship of people who were aware that things were not good in their lives and who desired to make a new start.
That is what he did at the moment of his baptism; that is what he does during the meal with the tax collectors. It is the programme of his life. His vocation. His mission.

Picture Meditation

Matthew tells us that the meal took place ‘in the house’. The artist replaces the scene into the garden, safely surrounded by a wall. The leaves of the tree make it almost a paradisiac scene.

I look at the people at the table. We see Jesus at the top, in red. The man at his left must be Matthew. We see men, women and children. The bald man at the foreground is clothed in his undershirt. A young mother is feeding her child. The table is full of food. Around the table children are playing; some of them are playing with a turtle. So relaxed.

At the top left we can see the kitchen; a woman is bringing food.

Would I like to be present at this meal? I look at each of these persons. Where would I like to sit down?

Bottom left two boys try to climb over the wall. Desiring to take part of this beautiful moment. Could I be one of them?

Bottom right we see some outsiders. Literally! Were there moments or are there moments in my life that I have been one of them? There is a man in a very decent yellow suit; he is turning his back on the scene and is walking away in my direction. Behind him a bishop (or even a cardinal?) is giving a commentary to two disciples who are turned to him. The disciple in blue, with a beard, is Peter. The other one... could I be this other disciple?

I try to imagine which words are spoken between the disciples inside the wall and the outsider-bishop on the other side.
The bishop is standing at the entrance of the garden. It is open. He can come in...

At the end of my meditation I could have a talk with one of these people; with Matthew, with Peter, with Jesus...

- Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J