That first day of the week, the neighbors of Jerusalem, in spite of the feast of the Sabbath, woke up very sad, perplexed, unable to believe what had happened that Friday on the hill of Golgotha. It became household talk in the entire city, the bad luck of the prophet of Nazareth, killed by the rulers of the capital… We were still in hiding for fear of the guards who were watching every street. Since the first hour, our fright heightened when Peter and the women came telling that the tomb was empty and that they had seen Jesus…
Mark: Okay, let’s get this over with, once and for all. Are you planning to return to Galilee or are you staying here…?
James: We dunno, Mark…
Peter: Yes, we do, James!! We’re staying. There are strange things happening here. Until these things are clarified, nobody moves from here!
Mark: Hey, you listen to me… take it easy!
Peter: I’m listening to you, Mark, and I’m cool. I’m telling you what I’ve seen. Pull out my tongue, and my teeth if you want, but I’ll go on saying this: Jesus is alive! Don’t you understand what has happened, you fools? The powerful didn’t get what they wanted! God has reversed everything! Like he promised: the poor, who are always the last, shall be first, and the dead are brought back to life. The Kingdom of God has come! I’ve seen it!
Mark: Okay, okay…. I’m sorry for you, troublemaker, really… I don’t think there’s anything we can do about you…
Magdalene: And that goes too for Mam Mary and me, doesn’t it? C’mon, will you have an open mind, for once? We’re telling you the truth!
James: No, that’s all nonsense, which is worse! If everyone goes on like this, we’ll all become crazy!
Mark: Fine, so you’re not going back to Galilee. Whatever you wish… There’s nothing much left to eat here. I’m going to buy something. Maybe, with some chicken peas in the stomach, you’ll get back to your senses…. I’ll be back right away! Lock the doors well and don’t let anyone in!
Near the aqueduct beside the small market, Mark met Cleophas, an old friend. Cleophas was a doctor. His hooked nose rested on his beard and a multi-colored scarf covered his bald head. In Barrio Ophel, he was better known as a quack doctor.
Cleophas: Hey, what’s with you, Mark, you rascal? I haven’t seen you for ages!
Mark: Blazes, Cleophas, that’s what I’d like to ask you, quacky…. But with what is happening these days… you heard about it, didn’t you?
Cleophas: You mean what happened to Jesus…
Mark: What else? You know damn well I’m a friend of his group. What happened was indeed terrible…
Cleophas: God seemed to have abandoned us. People who are depressed talk of nothing else…
Mark: You should see Jesus’ friends…
Cleophas: They must be distraught, I guess.
Mark: No, but they’re crazy. Three of them are worse. The mother, a young woman from Magdala and Peter, whom I know very well. They’re all out their minds. Imagine, they claim having seen Jesus this morning, and they even talked to him…
Cleophas: Poor ones… it must’ve been such a big blow…
Mark: You must go with me to the house, Cleophas…. You can cure them with your herbs and whatever. They’re awful, believe me… Say, why don’t you join us for lunch today?
Cleophas: These chicken peas are very good indeed… Hmmm…
Magdalene: Naturally, we’re the cooks here, Doctor Cleophas… Madam Mary and I prepared them. The rest do nothing but whimper, while we just sing our blues away! See how nice the food came out!
Mark: You see? They’re as happy as a lark. What do you think? Aren’t they completely insane?
Cleophas: A little bit high, yeah. Maybe an application of the belladona will do them good… and a lot of sleep….
Mark: And Peter too, I suppose…
Peter: I don’t need anything, Mark! I’ve heard you! You brought Cleophas to cure us, but no one is sick here. My brain is intact! My eyes and ears too! We have seen Jesus and spoken with him! That’s right, I dunno why God has done such a thing, but He did it! Why don’t you want to believe?
Magdalene: It’s okay, big nose…. They’ll eat their hearts out when they themselves see him. It’s okay, leave them alone…
Cleophas: Well, my friends, it’s been a pleasure to meet you. But now, it’s getting late, and I’ve got to go.
Mark: But it’s too early yet. Where the hell are you going?
Cleophas: Not far from here, to the village of Emmaus. I’ve got some business there to attend to.
Mark: Well, you’re not going there alone… Isn’t it in Emmaus where you find the hotsprings? They say this is good for pimples and black fever. Why don’t you bring Peter along? The waters might cure his obstinacy….
Peter: Will you leave me in peace, Mark! I’m not getting out of this house. You go and immerse your head in the waters, to make you believe, unbeliever!
Mark: Well, that’s a good idea. Yeah, I’m going with you, Cleophas. All this talk and all this darkness have been nauseating. A little journey might clear this mess in my head…. C’mon, let’s go….
When Mark and his friend Cleophas left, we closed the door with three padlocks. After eating, Peter and the women again narrated what they had seen and heard. Sick and tired of the same story, we did not believe a word of theirs….
Hours had passed. It was already dark and we had lighted a couple of lamps when the basement shook from incessant knocking at the door….
Cleophas: Open the door!… Open the door!
Mark: Peter, John, open the door!
James: Hell, who would be knocking at this time of the day?!
Magdalene: It sounds like the voice of Mark, don’t you hear?
Peter: Open the door, James. Be careful… It could be a trap…
When my brother opened the door, Mark and Cleophas, who were pushing it, came in like lightning. They were drenched with sweat, but leaping with joy….
Mark: You’re right! We’ve seen him! Cleophas and I have seen him!
Peter: Wait a minute…. really now? Bring them the belladona, Mary!
James: Hey, what have we got here? A cage of demented people? How come a doctor like you should….
Magdalene: Shut up, James, and let them speak…. Tell us, how did it happen and where? Tell us!
Cleophas: Listen! We were heading for Emmaus by way of Jaffa…. We were talking…. and we were in a hurry… and talking:
Cleophas: That’s terrible, Mark… Poor people… But it’s of little wonder, though. In my whole life, I haven’t seen an injustice worse than the judgment meted to the Nazarene… It can make you lose your sanity, you know…
Mark: Know what? I had known Jesus for more than a year… What a man, this guy Jesus. He’s the kind who enthralls you instantly… An upright person. I was telling Peter: If he’s not the Messiah, he’s very close to being one… God was with him, Cleophas. And the poor people too… He was one of us…
Cleophas: He shouldn’t have died…. So you see how things have been… only the good die young… they easily get rid of those who serve the people…
Mark: God has abandoned his people. This is hopeless… damn it…
Mark: So, we reached the height of Gabbatha. And on one of the bends, we saw one of our countrymen walking with a cane….
Cleophas: He came toward us and engaged us in a conversation… He said: “Why that sad look in that face? Is anything the matter?”… I said to myself: “Damn, where did this sneaky fellow come from?”
Mark: I told him we were talking about Jesus… And this countryman, seemed not to know anything about the event last Friday….
Mark: Well, you might be the only pilgrim in Jerusalem who didn’t know what happened…
Cleophas: Right, how come you didn’t know what happened to Jesus? Since that uproar in the Temple, nothing but this has been the talk of the town.
Mark: He was a prophet… or more than a prophet. Now you wouldn’t know who he really was… He performed great things and he spoke with great candidness…. He was very frank, do you understand? The Galilean confronted Pilate and Caiphas fearlessly, and how he reproached them!… We thought God would mete us justice through him, how we had hoped he would free Israel from all these ruling thieves…
Cleophas: But things turned out the other way around… Neither the Kingdom of God came, nor had anything else happened… They killed him, like they did to anyone who spoke the truth… And now, back to carrying the yoke on our necks… just like before!
Mark: That countryman of ours remained silent, listening to us intently… He seemed to be a nice person. Anyway, just for the heck of it, we even told him about your scuffle with the women this morning, and with Peter, everything…. That we didn’t believe a thing, naturally…
Cleophas: It was then we heard him say that we were the foolish ones, that we were the pigheaded ones… The truth was, I was kind of peeved by him. I said to myself: “What an obtrusive fellow! He can go to hell if he wants!”
Mark: And right there, he unleashed himself as well as all the spittle he accumulated in his mouth while listening to us, lecturing to us on a string of truths about the Scriptures. He knew them inside out.
Cleophas: He spoke of great things, things you will never forget… That those who fight for justice perish, but God takes note of their death. They are like seeds that are sunk into the soil; they spring forth once again and bear fruits. He told us not to be sad, because death never, never has the last say.
Mark: He also added that everything had been like the Passover in Egypt, during Moses’ time. That the Messiah had to cross the Red Sea of blood to be able to get into the promised land. That we should dry the tears in our eyes, for the Kingdom of God had already begun… Well, I dunno how to say it exactly, but that countryman of ours had a way of saying things that would give you the goose pimples.
Cleophas: His words penetrated like burning coals…
Mark: But the best thing is yet to come… When we reached Emmaus…
Cleophas: Hey, are you leaving now…?
Mark: Could you…. could you stay with us…? Look, it’s getting late, it’s almost night… Stay with us, man, there’s enough room for three…
Cleophas: How we wanted him to stay. And he did…! So we sat down to have dinner in Samuel’s inn…. We became ever more excited during the conversation…
Mark: Then, when we were eating, this countryman took a piece of bread, blessed it, broke it and gave each one a piece… just like what happened on Thursday evening… it was exactly the same. It was Jesus… I’m sure of it, buddies!
Magdalene: You see?!!! I told you, the Moreno is alive! He was not buried beneath the earth!
Cleophas: Yes, my friends, it’s hard to believe it, but it’s the truth, nothing but the pure truth! Jesus is alive! We’ve seen him! We must announce this to the four corners of the earth! So that everyone may know! Jesus is alive!!!
Ascend the high mountain, joyful messenger for Zion!
Shout out loud, joyful messenger for Jerusalem! Shout out without fear,
Tell the cities of Judah: “There goes our God!”
He is here to console the weeping,
to change our ashes into a crown,
our mourning robe into a festive garb,
our sighs into songs of victory!
All accounts of the Passover in the gospel clearly show that the disciples refused to believe in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Certainly, in the religious thinking of Israel, nothing ever existed which was similar to a resurrection “within history” as an event that could happen in the present. If there was a talk of a “resurrection of the dead” about 150 years before Jesus, it was understood as a promise for the end of time, but not as something that was to happen within life on earth. This is what the texts tell us about what the disciples had experienced: that Jesus lived within the context of his own history, that he was in community, that he was with them on the road, as in the case of the disciples of Emmaus.
In the episode, the disciples were Mark and Cleophas. The latter appeared as a doctor by profession. In Jerusalem, as in all cities and villages of Israel, there were doctors. They were considered artisans. They were only concerned with external medicine: application of bandages, compresses, ointment, and their knowledge of how the human body functioned was limited. Since medicine then had a lot to do with magical remedies, sometimes there was strong resistance against doctors who were considered charlatans or people taking advantage of other people.
Emmaus was a village about 30 kilometers from Jerusalem, in Shephelah, with an extensive flat land area, situated between the mountains of Judah and the coastal plains. During the war of Judas Maccabeus, it was here where the Israelites had encamped (1 Mac 3:57). At present we cannot point out the exact place of Emmaus as referred to in the gospel. In a small Arab village, El-Qubeibeh, is a church reminding us of this account of the Passover. Traces of a Roman street in Jesus’ time can still be found in this village. Another nearby village, Amwas, also claims to have been the venue of said events.
The coming of the Messiah, which for centuries had inspired the people of Israel, was becoming a reality in different ways through the times. After the resurrection, the disciples recognized the much awaited Messiah in Jesus. The life and death of Jesus identified him with the Servant of Justice that the prophet Isaiah had spoken about (Is 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 53:1-12), more than with the triumphant king, the mysterious heavenly character, or with the vindictive prophet that other people had imagined. Then they realized that the liberation brought about by the Messiah demanded willingness to give up one’s life. But the risen Jesus came to tell them suffering was never the ultimate word; because in the end, there would be life and triumph for those who had committed themselves.
The disciples recognized Jesus “in the breaking of the bread.” In Israel, bread was never cut with a knife. All meals started with this gesture of breaking the bread, performed by whoever presided over the meal. Jesus must have had a particular way of doing it when he ate with his companions, and this was how they were able to identify the unknown pilgrim. In this text, Luke, aside from giving us a Paschal account, also presents to us a Eucharistic scene. The scene of Emmaus is a catechetical account describing the meaning and what the eucharistic gatherings of the first Christian communities were. Through the Word (symbolized here by the conversation between Jesus and the travellers, where the former interpreted the Scriptures for the latter), and through the breaking of the bread (in the communion at the table), the resurrected Jesus makes his presence felt among his disciples.
(Mk 15:12-13; Lk 24:13-35)