“I guess you finally caught Jesus. Everyone knows that story” replied Alex.
“Yeah, we caught Him”, and again, Paul’s gaze drifted away into the distance. Then Paul shook his head as if snapping himself back to reality. “I can still remember how elated I was that we had finally put an end to it all. At least I thought it would all end there.”
“How did you catch Him?” asked Dominic as he leaned forward, his dark eye brows raised in curiosity.
“Just one day before the Passover, one of Jesus disciples approached the Sanhedrin. His name was Judas. Judas Iscariot. He was a Zealot before he joined Jesus’ crew. He provided us the information regarding the location of Jesus; when he would be alone, how to approach Him, everything. Together, we devised a plan to arrest Jesus.
“I followed the actions of the Sanhedrin, but never stepped forward to take part in the planning. At several points, I even wanted to question their motives…they were so desperate to hold on to their power. I even heard that the priests had paid off several elders to testify that Jesus was speaking out against Rome, and forbidding others to give taxes to Caesar. I was disgusted by their corruption. It was enough for me that Jesus would claim to be the “King” from David’s line of succession. When he also claimed to be God Jehovah himself, that was all I needed to see him destroyed.
“The High Priest seemed more concerned with his political standing and the threat to his power. He wanted to use this event to steal more power from Pilate.
Paul looked away and continued, “…No, it was too much for me to comprehend. My confusion led to anger.”
He looked back. “They arrested Jesus in a garden, and for the next 24 hours, he stood trial on his testimony that he was a king. In fact, He agreed when the Romans asked him if he was, in fact, the ‘King of the Jews’.
“I thought that would have finished it…but no, they tossed him back and forth between the Jews and the Romans. The Son of God became a pawn in the political games of men.
Anger flared in his voice, “How much more blind could I have been!”
Another pause while Paul collected his thoughts. He took a few more deep breaths.
“It does me good to remember my foolishness.
“The Romans, still decided that he was not a danger to Caesar, turned Him over to the Sanhedrin and the people of Jerusalem to determine his punishment.”
“Why did the Jews take him to the Romans in the first place? Why not execute him on their own?” asked Darius.
“The Jews could hold trials and punish offenses, but they couldn’t issue the death penalty. The Romans wouldn’t let them. They needed Rome to convict him.
“Pilate had his own agenda. He wasn’t about to hand us what we needed, he hated the Jews like the Jews hated the Romans, but, he also had a political prisoner on his hands that could not go unpunished.
”He had the legion beat and whip him more than I have seen any man endure, and then sent him back to us.
“We, in turn, provoked the mobs to ask for the death of Jesus by crucifixion. With all of the talk of revolution in the air it wasn’t difficult to get the people to kill a man that was caught in the middle.
“I am ashamed to say that even I, a devout Pharisee that loved the Jewish law and would never swear allegiance to any earthly king, found myself standing at Pilate’s gate screaming, ‘No King but Ceaser!’.
”Within the next day, Jesus died the slow painful death of hanging on the cross.”
Paul paused in his story for a long time, staring into his lap. The others in the cell thought that he had fallen asleep, he sat so still.
“Paul” spoke Alex, in a soft voice.
“I’m sorry, I was just thinking. I remember being so sure of what we were doing, it overwhelms me. I remember feeling like Jesus couldn’t be put to death soon enough. I couldn’t stand the sight of Him. He had turned everything upside down.
“When he was finally off the cross, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief.”
“Did you ever hear of the stories about Jesus being seen after he had died? They were all over the place” commented Alex.
Paul’s face brightened. “Oh yeah, we called them ‘the Jesus sightings’.
“You are right, there were many of them. My favorite one was…”
Early afternoon on Sunday after Jesus died, two of His disciples were leaving Jerusalem to head toward a small town called Emmaus.
With clearly marked roads and fairly level ground, the seven and a half mile journey would normally two young men three hours at the most. Today, at the pace that they were plodding along, it was shaping up to be a four hour walk.
The events of the past week had been an emotional roller coaster. Exactly one week ago, they had thrown palm on the street as Jesus of Nazareth rode across them into the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. It has seemed that every Jew in the city had come out to welcome Him.
Then so quickly the mood had changed. Four days later, they found themselves staring up to the top of a hill, where three men were hung on a cross. The middle one was Jesus.
That was three days ago. Now the two men were walking along at a solemn pace to visit some friends, other former followers of Jesus who were also unsure of the direction that their life should now take.
Both of them looked emotionally spent, heads hung low, shoulders slumped, eyes always staring down at the road in front of them.
“Cleopas, do you believe how quickly everyone turned on him?” mused the first.
“How many times are you going to ask me that?” replied Cleopas.
“Until you give me an answer, I guess. What do you suppose went wrong? He was supposed to free us, not die. And what of this empty tomb? Cleopas, how do you explain that?”
Cleopas sighed, “I don’t know. I was as surprised as you when Peter told us that the body was missing.”
“I wish this was all different. It feels like we are walking in a dream”.
The pace never changed. Each of them walked side by side on the dusty road. Unconsciously matching strides, their gaze focused somewhere about 2 feet in front of where their feet landed with every step. Neither one noticing that there was a third traveler falling into pace behind them.
“He said that he would not leave us. He said he was Messiah.”
“I know”, answered Cleopas, with a little bit of edge in his voice. Obviously, this conversation was starting to bother him, but neither Cleopas or his companion knew if it was because they were disappointed with the violent end of the man that they had followed and trusted, of because of all of the unanswered questions.
A voice from directly behind them startled them. “Why are you both so sad? What are you talking about?”
Anger rose in Cleopas’ stomach. Who would follow someone, listen in on a conversation, uninvited, and ask such a stupid question.
As the events of the past week passed through his mind, emotions broke upon him like waves crashing to shore one after another.
Cleopas gradually slowed the pace.
Grief, frustration, irritation, sadness, and the anger that boiled beneath the surface…it was all too overwhelming.
Cleopas stopped. He completely stopped. He stared forward. His face showed every feeling as they passed through his mind.
He took several deep breaths and paused before turning to face the stranger.
His body slowly turned to face backward, but his head and eyes stared at the stony road.
No words were required to portray his emotions, but still he couldn’t contain has feelings.
“Are you a stranger, so new to Jerusalem, that you don’t even have any idea of all the things that have happened here in the past three days?” he snapped.
“What things?” the visitor replied in the most innocent of voices.
Cleopas lifted his gaze and locked stares with third man…but then as he met the stranger’s eyes he saw innocence in them and realized that the entire world could not share in the amount of grief that he felt.
Those simple, honest eyes shifted from one disciple to the other, and the new comer asked again, “What’s been going on?”
Overwhelmed by the immensity of the story that they were being asked to share, the two disciples turned toward Emmaus and began moving again.
Not knowing where to begin, not able to keep the story contained any longer, they began spewing facts and half finished thoughts at the new comer…
“About Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet. You don’t know?”
“He did the most amazing things.”
“And spoke with authority and made everyone stop and listen…”
As each man took turns speaking, their heads half spun to look at the guest who had fallen in step between them.
One man would barely wait for the other to finish before cutting in.
“Like no one has before. He stood proud before priests, Pharisees…everyone…”
“…He had nothing to be ashamed of…”
“He didn’t deserve it! What they did.”
“How the chief priests and our own rulers took him to condemn him to death, and then crucified him.”
“And we trusted in Him. He said he would deliver us. We gave up everything for him…”
“It’s only been three days since they murdered him…on the cross.”
“Yes, and this morning some of the women went to the tomb where he was buried, and then came running back, saying that there were angels around the tomb telling them that He was alive.”
“Then some of the others went to look too…”
“…and they didn’t see Him either.”
“And we didn’t know what to think…”
“…or where to go”, finally a pause, and then a sigh, “So we are going to Emmaus, to see friends.”
That final pause seemed to sap the energy from the two speakers. Now that this burst of information had been delivered, their stride fell back into the sad stupor from before.
Seeming totally oblivious to the fact that the three men were already moving in the same direction, Cleopas faced him again and said “You are welcome to walk with us if you like”.
“Thank you, I would like that.” The stranger flashed a friendly smile and let the silence hang in the air.
Several minutes passed, and the visitor broke the silence. “It still amazes me,” he paused, “How foolish can you both be?”
Both men stopped moving. Cleopas snapped his head in angered amazement looking back.
The stranger locked eyes with Cleopas and quickly continued, “Why are you so slow to get it? Don’t you remember anything that the prophets said? Didn’t they say that Christ had to suffer these things so that He could enter into His glory?
“In the books of the Law, in Deuteronomy, didn’t Moses write that God would raise up a prophet? Didn’t Jeremiah tell us that God would bring forward a King from David’s line?”
Then, without pause, the stranger started walking again, this time taking the lead but still at a normal pace. The other two looked blankly at each other for a moment, then walked quickly forward to catch up, not exactly sure what to think of the boldness of the unfamiliar man.
For the final hours of this journey, he walked the two friends through the story of the Scripture. He spoke to them of prophecy after prophecy that had fulfilled by Jesus.
He comforted them with assurances that all was still going according to God’s plan. With each word, the friend’s sadness began to fade, and seeds of hope began to take root.
As they neared the village they approached a fork in the road. To the left the road continued on towards the coastal towns, the other entered the city of Emmaus.
The friends moved to the right, toward their friend’s house, but the visitor had stopped to continue past the city. “It’s has been good to walk with you both.”
Desperate not to loose this incredible man who seemed to have all the answers, Cleopas stumbled over his words, “Do you have to go that way? I mean…please stay. It will be dark before you go much farther, the day is almost over.”
Quietly the man nodded his head, gently smiled, and followed them into the city.
As they sat down to eat dinner, Cleopas had a feeling that things would be okay. Strangely, everything felt right, in a familiar way. The two travelling disciples sat on either side of their travel companion.
The conversation flowed freely around the table. They shared stories and shared laughter.
As he was taking a drink, Cleopas looked up from his cup to watch their new friend reach across the table and take both loaves of bread into his hands. Something was nagging in the back of his mind. Cleopas paused; his wine paused half way between his mouth and the table. He was thinking to himself how this was all so familiar.
After grabbing the bread, he bowed his head and raised to two loaves of bread. He thanked his father for once again providing nourishment, never forsaking his children.
Setting one loaf of bread back on the table, the man, no longer a stranger, kissed the other loaf, broke it, and passed it to the two disciples on either side of him.
As he and handed each of the disciples a piece of bread, he was careful to make eye contact with them
The one on the left jumped up from the table!
“Cleopas! It’s Jesus!”
Cleopas eyes wide, he looked from his friend to Jesus and started to rise, bumping the table, spilling his wine.
And at that moment Jesus was gone.
Cleopas grinned as he wiped up the spilled wine with an old rag.
His friend was babbling in the corner, “Man, we should have known. Who else could have made us feel the way we did on the road?”, gasping for air, “All of the things that he said, the way that he spoke. His explanation of all of the things that we should have already known? The aching of our hearts, longing to see him again, and he was with us all along.”
Cleopas sighed, wishing that he could reclaim this lost opportunity.
Before they rested that night, the two travelers returned to Jerusalem, to find the remaining eleven disciples and the others that were gathered with them, to tell them that Peter had been right, and Jesus was definitely alive!