The Emmaus Disciples
This is one of my favorite parts of the Easter narrative. It has always held fascination for me. I think, at least in part, it’s because of what’s left unsaid as much as what is said. What has been left unsaid creates an interest in knowing more.
Who were these two disciples? They’re obviously not part of the twelve-man inner circle. We may not be able to recite all twelve names from memory, but we know there is no Cleopas among them.
We assume the Last Supper was limited to Jesus and the twelve. That’s the way DaVinci painted it; but were there more than these thirteen in attendance? We don’t know, of course, but there is at least an outside possibility that the Emmaus disciples were there.
One thing we do know: not all of Jesus’ disciples came from Galilee. These two lived in Emmaus, which was about six or seven miles from Jerusalem. We know Jesus visited Jerusalem on other occasions before this last one. We remember John talking about Jesus teaching in the temple on several occasions and being surrounded by crowds. Some of those listening would have chosen to follow him, including, quite likely, the Emmaus disciples.
Luke mentions one of them by name—Cleopas—but doesn’t name the other one. It has always been assumed they were both male, but that’s not a good assumption. They were sharing living quarters, not likely for two adult males in that culture. It is more likely that this was a married couple, returning to their home after Passover and the Sabbath. John (19:25) says that one of the women at the cross was “Mary, the wife of Clopas.” Was this the same man? And was Mary his wife? Quite possibly.
Why didn’t Luke mention her name as well as that of her husband? We could argue that women in that society were not as important as men. But more than any other gospel writer Luke is sympathetic to women. He tells more stories about women than the other gospel writers, and paints them in a more positive light. Of course, we don’t know, and anything we say is mere speculation.
Let’s proceed on the assumption that the two disciples were husband and wife.
So…it’s late afternoon of the first Easter. Cleopas and Mary, two of Jesus’ disciples, are walking from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus. If the distance is at least six miles, and they walk at a pace of twenty minutes or so a mile, the journey will take them at least two hours to get home.
Today, even going as slowly as thirty miles an hour, we could drive that distance in about ten minutes. Even those of us who walk for exercise don’t walk for two hours at a time. In our world that’s an incredible amount of walking. Yet how else were they to get where they needed to go? Walking was the most common method of traveling from one place to another.
We don’t often think about it, but when we read of Jesus going from place to place in Galilee with his disciples, that’s the way they traveled—and the distances between places would have been more than six miles. If six miles of walking boggles the mind, remember that Jesus and his disciples also walked from Galilee to Jerusalem. That distance is just under eighty miles. You do the math. The time would be measured in days, not hours—and remember, they would have had to eat and sleep along the way.
All this makes the Emmaus journey more special. A man and his wife, traveling home late in the afternoon, despondent because their leader has been executed, encounter a stranger, who, over the course of a couple of hours explains, using the Hebrew Scriptures, why the Messiah had to suffer and die. When, at their home, Jesus reveals himself to them and disappears, they turn around and walk another two hours back to Jerusalem. We can imagine this was a happier trip, and that they covered the distance in less time—all to tell the good news.
To what lengths will we go to share our good news?