Who were the two travelers on the road to Emmaus – Cleopas and that other unidentified person? Were they friends, or brothers, or husband and wife? We don’t know. I like to think the reason one of them remains unnamed is to allow us to insert our own name into the story. It was Cleopas and Manuel, or Cleopas and you on the road to Emmaus. And why not? They were just like us. They had the same concerns we do – in the midst of everyday life, keeping body and soul together, keeping out of trouble, trying but failing to stay strong in the face of shattered hopes and broken dreams.
Bible scholars tell us that this episode, this theological masterpiece, with its liturgical language – he took; he broke; he gave – is a description of the Eucharist. It is in the Liturgy of the Word that the hearts of the two travelers were set on fire with understanding of Jesus; that in the breaking of the bread, they saw Jesus; that having been fed on the Word and the Bread they were sent on mission to proclaim the Good News of the Lord’s resurrection.
And yet, perhaps the Good News embraces another, more commonplace, truth. The truth is that, like the two travelers, we often walk in the wrong direction. We walk away from Jerusalem, away from Calvary. We walk in the direction of Emmaus, wherever that mysterious city may be, seven miles distant and straight into darkness. We are deliberately going the wrong way. It’s a bad habit we inherited from our first parents who, in their sin of disobedience, went the wrong way, into the hiding place of darkness.
Perhaps the Good News, the central truth of all Scripture, beginning with Moses and the prophets, as Jesus taught the two travelers, is that God always takes the initiative in seeking us out – even when we insist on walking in the wrong direction. He walks with us, yet never forcing himself on us. He simply waits patiently for Manuel or you to say the words: "It’s getting dark. Stay with us."
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.