Guest Blogger: What Really Happened on the Way to Emmaus? by Theresa Doyle-Nelson

The following post is an excerpt from the March/April 2010 issue of Canticle Magazine.

Road to EmmausNow that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus … One of them,named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” Luke 24: 13, 18

For many years I have made a funny assumption. Every time I read or heard the Biblical story of the resurrected Jesus appearing to Cleopas and his friend while traveling to Emmaus, I have assumed that the traveling companion was another man – probably another disciple, maybe one of the 72 mentioned in Luke’s Gospel. Recently, however, a few ideas and suggestions have come my way, prompting me to reconsider.

Meet Mary of Clopas

Not too long ago, while researching the various women named Mary in the Bible, I came to know and appreciate Mary, the wife of Clopas. While this Mary, frequently referred to as “Mary of Clopas” is not a well known Mary of the Bible, like Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, or Mary, the mother of Jesus, her actions in the Bible are significant.

For instance, she was certainly one of the women at Christ’s crucifixion. It is also very likely that she was one of the Galilean women who followed and ministered to Jesus. She probably attended Jesus’ burial, and was likely one of the first to see Him resurrected.

An official saint, listed in the Roman Martyrology (her feast day is April 24), Saint Mary of Clopas seems to have a variety of titles within the Bible. She is referred to as Mary the mother of James and Joseph (Mt. 27:56), the other Mary (Matthew 27: 61), Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses (Mark 15: 40), Mary the mother of Joses (Mk 15: 47), and Mary the mother of James (Mark 16: 1 and Luke 24: 10).

In my research I learned that many consider Clopas to be a different spelling of Cleopas, and that Mary of Clopas was very possibly the wife of Cleopas, the man who was traveling to Emmaus. Even though the Gospel writer John used the spelling “Clopas,” Luke’s spelling of “Cleopas” could reasonably be referring to the same name/family.

Later, during a homily at church, while my pastor was discussing this Emmaus passage, he suggested how Cleopas’s traveling companion could have very possibly been his wife, Mary. This homily prompted me to go home and check my Bible. Sure enough, it is never stated whether Cleopas’s traveling companion was male or female. This leaves wide open the possibility of his friend being his wife, who was plausibly Mary of Clopas.

A Husband and Wife?

Recently, a Byzantine Rite priest sent me a delightful card with a beautiful icon on the front portraying Cleopas (also an official saint whose feast day is September 25) traveling to Emmaus … with a woman!

The description on the back of the card explained that the woman depicted in the icon was Mary of Clopas … likely the wife of Cleopas. The explanation brought forth (as my pastor had just a few weeks prior) the possibility that she – Saint Mary of Clopas – was Cleopas’s traveling companion on the way to Emmaus.

These three events melded in my mind and I found that even the possibility of a “Mr. and Mrs. Cl[e]opas” traveling together on that first Easter Sunday to be fascinating. A husband and wife team, meeting up with a resurrected Christ during a seven mile walk offers plenty to think about. How they did not recognize Him at first, but clearly felt a sense of goodness by being in his presence, for when it was time to part, they asked him to stay. How when the pair dined with Jesus their eyes and hearts suddenly understood who their passer-by was – whereupon Jesus suddenly vanished. Cleopas, along with his companion – his wife? – then felt compelled to return to Jerusalem to share with others the extraordinary experience.

A Few Sons Also?

As a brief aside, some linguists consider Clopas/Cleopas to be a Greek transliteration for the Aramaic of Alphaeus. If so, this possible married couple might be the parents of James the son of Alphaeus, also known as James the Less/Younger, one of the Twelve Apostles. Also, Matthew 15: 33 gives credence to Mary of Clopas as being the mother of a Simon as well, the Simon who is believed to be St. Simon of Jerusalem, the second bishop of Jerusalem. Curiously, St. Simon of Jerusalem is recorded by many to have been the son of Cleopas. Hmmm.

Things to Contemplate

We cannot know with certainty whether or not these people were indeed immediate family members. However, we can contemplate the possibility and hopefully grow as Catholics. Perhaps the prospect can prompt married couples to ponder how they would react if they happened to meet up with, but not immediately recognize, Christ. If they had a meal with the Son of God, realized who he was and then saw him vanish … what would they do? For now, we will have to wait until we get to heaven to know for sure who was with Cleopas, whether or not Mary of Clopas was his wife and James the Younger and Simon their sons. In the meantime, we can reflect upon their stories and let our hearts ponder the inevitable meeting we will all eventually have with Christ … whether on earth or in heaven.

Theresa Doyle-Nelson is a freelance writer from Pipe Creek, TX and the author of “Saints of the Bible” available at Our Sunday Visitor.

Order your subscription to Canticle Magazine today!

Comments are closed.