By John F. Fink
Luke’s Gospel (24:13-35) tells us the story of Jesus appearing to two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. One of the disciples is named Cleopas, but the other is unnamed. John’s Gospel names “Mary the wife of Clopas” as one of those standing by the cross. Since those names are so similar, it seems possible that it was she who was the second disciple and that they were returning home together.
We believe that Cleopas was St. Joseph’s brother and therefore the Blessed Virgin’s brother-in-law. That would have explained why his wife was standing by the cross, to help comfort her sister-in-law.
Cleopas and his wife Mary were the parents of Simon, Jesus’ cousin, who became the second bishop of Jerusalem after the martyrdom of James in the year 62. Simon led the Christians across the Jordan River to Pella before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 and then back again when it was safe. He built the first Christian church on Mount Zion.
Some scholars believe that it was Simon, rather than his mother, who was accompanying his father on the road to Emmaus. It seems more likely to me, though, that his parents would have been traveling together, especially if Mary had been by the cross.
Scholars believe that Simon might have told Luke about the Emmaus experience and that Luke included the story in his Gospel, since it appears only there.
And where was Emmaus? That question has been debated for centuries and today there are at least four places that claim to be the place. The Franciscans, though, believe that it is today’s Arab village of El-Qubeibeh (pronounced Co-baby), seven miles from Jerusalem. They built a church there in 1902, following the lines of a Crusader church built over what is believed to be Cleopas’s home. There is also a Franciscan monastery there.
Here is a speculative account of Jesus’ appearance, as written by Cleopas. It appeared originally in The Criterion, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, in 2003.
How could I be so stupid!
Why didn’t I recognize Jesus when he first met my wife and me as we were walking back to our home in Emmaus? And why didn’t I, who learned the Jewish Scriptures from my childhood, already understand what our prophets said about the Messiah?
How could I be so stupid!
I guess I’d better introduce myself. My name is Cleopas. I’m the younger brother of Joseph, who was the foster father of this Jesus I mentioned above. Until his death about five years ago, Joseph was married to a wonderful woman named Mary. They lived in Nazareth, about 75 miles from Jerusalem, and I live in Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. We saw one another mainly when we got together during the Jewish feasts in Jerusalem.
As usual, like all good Jews, my wife (whose name is also Mary) and I went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover this year, and Mary stayed with us.
Jesus was there, too. About three years ago he left Nazareth and began to travel around Galilee, north of where we live in Judea, teaching about the kingdom of God. He was a charismatic man and what he said obviously was helpful to a lot of people because he attracted huge crowds wherever he went. He also cured people of various ailments.
Since our Scriptures predicted that a Messiah would come to redeem us, and since we interpreted that to mean that he would free us Jews from the oppression of the Romans, it wasn’t long before many people thought—yes, hoped—that Jesus was that Messiah.
My wife and I included ourselves among his disciples. Knowing that Jesus and the 12 apostles who traveled with him would be in Jerusalem, we went there a week before the beginning of Passover. We were glad we did because five days before Passover Jesus rode into Jerusalem in a great procession. As he rode in on a donkey, a great crowd (and we among them) spread our cloaks and palm branches on the ground before him. We were all calling, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel.”
I’m not sure any of us (except Jesus) understood how much fear the members of the Sanhedrin had about Jesus’ popularity. But we soon found out. We know now that they were afraid that the Romans would think that the Jews were revolting against them and would clamp down. After all, it had happened before.
Anyway, the leaders of the Jews arrested Jesus and took him before the Sanhedrin. The members of the Sanhedrin convicted him of blasphemy and tried to convince Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, that Jesus was inciting the people. Pilate didn’t seem to be completely convinced, but the leaders of the Jews were so insistent that Jesus be crucified that he ordered his crucifixion.
So Jesus suffered the terrible torture and death of crucifixion. I watched from some distance, but my wife Mary was standing by the cross trying to comfort Jesus’ mother. Mary of Magdala was also there, as was Jesus’ aunt (Mary’s sister) and the apostle John. My Mary heard Jesus entrust the care of his mother to John.
It was a horrible weekend. Jesus was buried hurriedly before sundown on Friday because the feast of the Passover began then. Then, despite our sorrow, we observed the Sabbath and the first day of Passover on Saturday.
On Sunday my wife and I decided that we had better get back to Emmaus. We had been gone for a week and I really had to get back to work. But before we left, we heard some bewildering news. Some of the women from our group went to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning and couldn’t find his body. They came back and reported a vision of angels who announced that Jesus was alive! Then Peter and John ran to the tomb and found things just as the women had described.
Naturally, my wife and I were discussing all this as we started to walk the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. That’s when the amazing thing happened: Jesus himself caught up with us and started to walk with us. But neither my wife nor I recognized him. I can’t explain why. I guess Jesus simply didn’t want us to recognize him.
He asked us what we were talking about as we walked. I admit some exasperation when I replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?”
“What sort of things?” he asked.
I said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”
Well, this man didn’t exactly call me stupid, but he did say, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Let’s just say that he certainly got my attention.
Then he proceeded to interpret all the things that referred to the Messiah in our Scriptures, things that I should have known. The Book of Isaiah, for example, contains the great messianic oracles known as the Songs of the Servant (Chapters 40-55). Chapter 53 tells how the sinless Servant, by his voluntary suffering, would atone for the sins of his people and save them from just punishment at the hands of God.
That same chapter in Isaiah says that God will reward the Servant because he would fulfill the divine will by suffering for the sins of others. The man who walked with us said that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.
By this time we had come to Emmaus, but we wanted the stranger to stay with us. Mary, always hospitable, said to him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” He agreed to stay and Mary hurried about getting some supper for us.
As we sat down, the man took some bread, said a blessing, broke the bread and gave it to us. At that our eyes were opened and we recognized Jesus. But just as quickly as we did, he vanished! He was gone.
Well, we simply had to get back to Jerusalem and report what had happened even though evening was fast approaching. Probably no one has traveled those seven miles faster than we did. When we got to the room where the apostles and others were staying, they were excited. “The Lord has truly been raised,” they told us, “and he has appeared to Simon!”
Then we told them what had happened to us on the road to Emmaus and how we had recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. We were still speaking when suddenly, although the doors were locked, Jesus stood there in our midst. “Shalom aleichem!” he said. “Peace be with you.”
Naturally, we were all startled, but Jesus tried to calm us down. “Why are you troubled?” he asked. “And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” He even asked for something to eat and someone gave him a piece of baked fish. He took it and ate it in front of us.
Yes, Jesus is truly risen from the dead. I know that he was dead because I watched him die from afar and my wife was standing by the cross. I can testify to his resurrection because I have now seen him twice—on the road to Emmaus and in that upper room. Because of his resurrection, we all live in hope of our own resurrection.