On the Road
Walking down that dusty road, leaving a town that felt so cold, and yet was really just too damn hot, we were — to put it bluntly — running away. The last few days had taught us what happens to hope : it dies. Or in this case, gets itself killed. Now all we wanted to do, me and Cleopas, was to put as much distance as we could between us and the place where we’d seen the man we’d hoped was the Messiah hung up on a cross.
Actually, we didn’t really see him on the cross. It would have been too risky to go out there to Golgotha ; plenty of the locals could have fingered us as his friends and then where would we be ? Probably right next to him, if you want to know the truth. You can argue that the women were there, and that’s true, but really, you know how it is – the ladies can always get away with things that men can’t. At any rate, even though we weren’t there to see it all, we heard about it that night and all the next day, which was the Sabbath. When the next day came, more of the same. After a while, it got so bad that I said to Cleopas, I said, “Enough. I’m out of here.” Cleopas usually doesn’t take a lot of convincing when I get a good idea, and this was one of those times. It just made sense. I ask you : what was the point of waiting for the Romans to show up ? Sure, the door was locked. So what ? You think those Legion boys couldn’t break it down with a couple of kicks ? No, it was time to get out. Leaving town as a group wasn’t going to happen, either – safety lay in just being a couple of nobodies on the road. Besides, the others wanted to stay together in the city. Well, like I said to Cleopas, it was their funeral. Literally.
Of course I felt bad. We both did. We’ve got feelings, too, you know. Going around the countryside listening to him preach and watching him do all those incredible things, we felt so hopeful. Hopeful for Israel. Not to mention for us ! Some of us even began to plan ahead about thrones and things. Me and Cleopas weren’t in that league, but still, we had hopes. And then, ka-pow. So many hopes, and they were suddenly all as dead as that fig tree he’d cursed just a few days before things fell apart. No more figs. No more hope. So meaningless, the whole thing. And you know, in the middle of feeling sad, I also felt kind of duped. I don’t like to feel that way ; it was time to put some miles between me and him.
So, anyway, just as we’re leaving, something weird happens. The women come running in, screaming that they’ve seen him, they’ve seen him, he’s alive, he’s alive !!! Women. So emotional. Hysterical, even. Not able to think things through. Something to do with having babies, I think. He liked them, though, so we always had a little group of them with us. They made themselves useful, I have to give them that — they could sew up a tear in your tunic, stuff like that. And of course, they paid for a lot of our meals and our lodgings, too. That must have confused their husbands ! But still – a crucified man alive ? A story like that is good for scaring kids and scamming gullible people. Which I’m not.
So I didn’t budge when Peter and the other disciple took off, running up to the garden where his tomb was. In fact, I was ready to head the other way, but Cleopas is one of those people who’s got to know the end of a story. Kind of like a kid. I remember that he always wanted to know if the people in the stories – like that prodigal son and his older brother, for example – ever got to be friends again or live happily ever after or what not. I used to feel embarrassed – grown man playing around with stories like that, just didn’t seem right. But he didn’t think it was so silly, he even asked ol’ Cleep to come up with some different endings. That was him all over : teacher man. Miracle man. Too-good-to-last man.
So anyway, we waited for them. I also getting nervous because they were taking so long, but finally they made it back, Peter breathing kind of heavy, and told what they’d seen. The women had got it right : the tomb was empty. There was something about the grave wrappings all rolled up in different places ; I didn’t get all the details. But – and this was a big “but” – they didn’t see him. Can’t say that I was surprised. I could have told them : they weren’t going to see him, because he was D.E.A.D., dead. They were telling the story for about the tenth time when me and Cleopas eased out the door and got on the road.
Not too much traffic on the Emmaus road ; we dodged around a few donkey carts and talked it over some more. I was sick of it in Jerusalem, but in fact, it was tough to let it go. Still, like my old grandpa used to say : you’ve got to use your head, especially if you want to keep it on your shoulders. Cleopas kept saying, “Well, maybe he is alive, maybe the women are right,” and even, “maybe we should go back.” The first stuff was just laughable, but that last part was crazy. I stopped and bent down right there in the road and just drew a little cross in the dust…sort of like what we’d seen him do once, long ago. That got his attention, I can tell you. He’s a good kid, but a bit naïve.
So we were just stopped there for a minute and then this stranger comes up to us and starts asking us questions as we get going again. I don’t know what wine shop he was in all weekend, though he seemed all right then, but he didn’t know nothing about it. So then we started giving him the inside story, like, and just as we got to where the women were seeing angels but not him, this total stranger rips into us with some pretty strong language, calling us “slow of heart.” And he asks us : “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory ?” Now, Cleopas and me, we’re simple guys. Reading the Scriptures is not what we do. And usually we don’t take a lot of guff from strangers, either. But something made us listen to him.
He had a lot to say, and he said it in a way that reminded me of someone, but I was so busy listening to him that I couldn’t really put two and two together. He marched us through the whole Bible – by the time we came into Emmaus, I saw Cleopas beginning to sweat, and I was feeling a bit thirsty myself, so we invited him to join us for a cup of wine and something to eat.
We sat down, and he blessed and broke the bread. As soon as he did that, I knew. It was him. Just like the women said, alive. Only now he was with me and Cleopas in some cheap little dive in Emmaus. My God. And then he was gone, vanished.
Well, we looked at each other, threw a couple of coins on the table, and started back to the city. Both of us had felt something on the road while he was talking, but until he blessed and broke the bread, it was like we were in a fog. But after that, our eyes were opened. I guess you could say our hearts were opened, too. You want proof ? Let me tell you something : Cleopas, whose legs are a lot longer than mine, ran most of the way back to Jerusalem. When the two of us got back to the house together, we found the doors wide open and our friends bubbling over with the news – it seems he’d been there, too. When we told our story, it was like he was there right then, again. It felt like the best day of my life, after what had probably been the worst.
But listen, that’s not the end of the story. Like those stories from before that Cleopas loved so much, this one had a life of its own. It started with blessing, breaking, sharing and… seeing. Not with the eyes only but with the heart, too, something that kind of startled me, since I’ve always been more a head guy than a heart guy. But there it was. No denying it. And I didn’t want to deny it. Still don’t. Looking back on it now, all I can say is this : me and Cleopas, we ran away because we stopped hoping. But the story and the hope found us in that man who walked along with us on the road.
It’s possible that you’re having a tough time hoping ; maybe you’re running away, or maybe you’re wishing you could. Maybe you’re just plodding along on the road to nowhere, your head full of reasonable fears and your heart kind of numb. You’re probably not alone out there, but it’s hard to see other people when you’re feeling like that.
Well, take a tip from someone who’s been there : let him find you, wherever and however you are.
And when he comes up to you, start walking with him, and listen to what he has to say, listen with your heart as well as your ears. When evening comes, stay with him as he blesses, breaks, and shares the bread with you. That’ll be the moment when he’s making room in the story for you.
Sr. Nuala Cotter, r.a.