The following is an excerpt from the manuscript of a novel that I have been working on for a year and a half.
Neither could say just how long the stranger had been standing near them. He was tall, a little above the average, but other than that not very out of the ordinary. He wore an ordinary homespun travelling cloak over a linen robe of decent quality and excellent craftsmanship. He carried no staff or bundle. It was hard to tell how old he was, for his face was full and his limbs vigorous, even powerful. On the other hand, his eyes and forehead and the corners of his mouth were lined with wrinkles. There was a depth of wisdom and compassion in his eyes, such that Clophas was at one moment sure he was in his thirties, and at other times thought he must be at least sixty.
“Good evening, friends,” the stranger said, inclining his head and smiling at them. When he smiled his whole face crinkled up and his eyes shone with merriment as if he understood some joke that was known to him alone.
“I am sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. I have only heard a little of it, but I have been very intrigued by what I heard. What is this event that you have talked about so loudly and with such feeling? And why does it make you so sad?”
“I am sure you know all about it already,” Clophas answered, feeling a little annoyed at the stranger’s familiar manner. “I see that you have come from Jerusalem, and by your accent you hail from Galilee. Are you the only visitor to the city this Passover who does not know the things that have been happening there?”
“Tell me,” the stranger answered. “What things?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” Clophas answered shortly.
The stranger seemed not to notice the old man’s annoyance, or not to care, for he asked, “Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?”
“Do you know nothing?” Miriam asked in amazement. “Not to know who Jesus is!”
“Who do you say that He is?” the stranger repeated.
“He was a prophet,” Clophas answered solemnly and impressively. “The greatest of all prophets that ever were, mighty in word and deed before God and Man. He spoke the truth fearlessly, but some folks don’t want to hear the truth, and some of those folks are powerful men. Our chief priests and elders brought shame upon Judah by turning Him over to the cursed gentiles. They tried Him, beat Him and crucified Him like a common criminal, who never in His life did any evil, but only good for all.”
The stranger listened to this statement with a strange, indecipherable expression. His eyes were sympathetic, but there was also an expectant attitude, as if he were waiting for Clophas to say more. There was the air of a schoolteacher who has listened to his student’s reply but has not yet heard the answer to his question. There was even a hint of amusement, as if his student’s incomprehension was somehow a bit comical.
“There’s more to it,” Clophas went on. “We had hoped… we, His followers, I mean… we hoped that He would be the One. You know, the Anointed One who was to restore Israel.”
The stranger arched his eyebrows ever so slightly.
“I thought He was the Messiah,” Clophas finished.
The stranger smiled and asked, “But didn’t your wife say something else? Something even stranger?”
“Well, sir, since you ask, there is more. Some women of our company, my wife among them, went to the tomb early this morning, this being the day after the Sabbath. You understand, this is the third day after He died, but they say that the tomb was empty and that there were angels standing there who told them that Jesus is not dead, but alive.”
“Is this true?” the stranger asked Miriam directly.
“It is, sir,” Miriam replied. “And some of our men went after us and saw exactly what we saw, except for the angels. The tomb open, the linens empty, and no Jesus.”
At this, the stranger’s eyes crinkled shut and his lips spread into a wide smile. He threw back his head and laughed as if he could no longer contain his mirth. “Oh foolish, foolish children of men,” he cried. “Foolish sons of Adam!” He turned back to them and beckoned them to walk with him. “Foolish men, so slow of heart to believe what the prophets said! Did you not know that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer all these things? How else was He to enter into His glory?”
“I don’t understand,” Clophas said, rather stiffly, half inclined to send this impudent fellow packing. However, for some reason he could not explain the stranger’s words filled him with excitement and he could not tell him off for his impertinence. Instead, he fell in step beside him, and Miriam followed right along with him.
“Think about it,” the stranger invited. “Go all the way back to the beginning, to Adam’s sin in the Garden. Did not the Almighty One promise then that the Messiah should come, born of the woman’s seed? Did He not warn that the serpent would strike Him upon the heel? Yet what would be the consequence of that for the serpent?”
“The Christ would crush his head.”
“So it has been! The serpent struck, and sank his fangs in the heel of the Son of Man, and got his head crushed for his pains!”
Clophas and Miriam were silent for a while, digesting this. Then the old man spoke. “Your words are strange, and you speak with authority. I am not sure I understand you, but… Tell me more! How was the head of the serpent crushed?”
As they walked the stranger spoke to them, taking them back to the very beginning, and speaking of the sin of Adam, which brought death into the world as its result, punishment and remedy. He spoke of the suffering of the innocent: from Abel whose sacrifice pleased the Lord and who was then sacrificed by the jealousy of his unworthy brother; to Zechariah son of Barachiah, the High Priest and faithful prophet who was slain in the very temple itself. He spoke of Isaac, the young man who in obedience to his father carried the wood for his own sacrifice up the mountain and would have offered up his life had not the angel of the Lord spared him and substituted for him a ram.
He spoke of the lamb of the Passover, whose blood smeared on the doorposts spared the children of Israel from the angel of death. “Not of their own worth did the death of the lambs save Israel, but only by looking forward to the death of the true Lamb of Passover, the Son of Man.”
He spoke to them of the thousands upon thousands of sheep, goats, doves and cattle killed every year in the temple, whose blood could never satisfy the demands of the Law, for they all belonged to God anyway. Lebanon itself could not have sufficed for fuel nor its flocks for a worthy holocaust for God, who created them all and maintained them in existence. He spoke of the suffering of the righteous prophets at the hands of the unrighteous and of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “By His sufferings my servant shall justify many.”
“Even the very history of Israel will speak to you of the suffering of the Christ, for when have not the Children of Israel been persecuted at the hands of the nations? Truly you have been a holocaust, that the mercy of God might be extended throughout the earth and all nations might find redemption.”
Clophas frowned. “There are not many in Israel who would want to hear you say that, sir. I perceive you are a rabbi, and so you undoubtedly see things differently than the rest of us, but it sounds to me like you’re saying our sufferings at the hands of the Romans are for their sake.”
“I tell you, you are subject unwillingly, because of your sins, but that this suffering is for the glory of God and shall be the means of redemption for all who will accept it.”
“Then God subjects us to suffering against our will for the sake of others?”
“You subject yourselves and each other to sufferings by your own evil ways, but God will not be turned aside and will make use of your evil to bring about your good.”
“What has this to do with Jesus of Nazareth?” Clophas asked.
“But do you not see? All the lambs, goats, and cattle could not bear your iniquities. How could they? The Son of Man, this Jesus of whom you speak, is the Righteous Servant who needs no justification and so can willingly give Himself up for your justification. And I solemnly tell you, that is what He has done. He bore your stripes, and took upon Himself the punishment that will make you whole.”
“But He was only one Man,” Miriam said. “How could He take on the sin of the whole world?”
“He was not only a man,” Clophas answered. He stopped walking and let his jaw hang slack as his eyes stared at the stranger. “This is what you are saying isn’t it. He is what Cephas said He is.”
The stranger did not answer.
“He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”
“We have reached the inn,” the stranger said.
Clophas blinked and looked around him, and saw that indeed, they had. He had not remembered entering the town, but he had been so engrossed in the conversation that he had not even noticed where their steps had led them.
“I bid you good evening. Peace be with you,” the stranger bowed as if he was taking his leave.
“Sir! Do you go on from here tonight?” Miriam asked in astonishment.
“I do,” the stranger answered.
“But it is many miles to the next village. Have you a place to stay?”
“I have nowhere to lay my head, not even a fox’s den or a bird’s nest.” He said this cheerfully, as if it did not concern him in the least, and his eyes twinkled as if there were some joke in that statement that he was waiting for them to get.
“Sir, if we have in any way found favor with you, let me prevail upon you to accept our hospitality,” Clophas said. “God has been good to me, and He bids us share our bed and board with those who have none. Our Master, Jesus, would have bid us do the same. For His sake, will you not stay with us this night, and continue on your way in the morning? Then we might continue our conversation, for I must say, my heart has not been this excited by words since I last heard the Master speaking to us. I long to hear more.”
“As you wish. I will never refuse to accept hospitality where I am offered it,” the stranger laughed.
Clophas led the way into the inn and greeted the landlord, who was a friend of his. He paid for a room for Miriam and himself and the stranger, and asked that food might be brought to them.
“Certainly, Clophas. It will be up as quickly as we can prepare it. What will you have?”
Clophas turned to the stranger. “What would you like to eat?”
“Some bread and wine will suffice,” he answered, smiling.
As they walked up the stairs Clophas remarked, “I don’t suppose you are aware, but Jesus was more than only a Rabbi and Master to me. He was also my nephew, the son of my brother’s wife. I loved Him as dearly as any of my own sons, and I don’t mind telling you, somehow, that His death… well, it hit me hard. Not just because of our hopes for Israel, but because He was such a good man. He was more than a good man. The favor of God was upon Him.”
They reached the upper room where they were to stay for the night and laid aside their cloaks and staffs. Clophas went on. “And now I see that He was more than a good man. He was the Son of God!”
He dropped onto a cushion and sat with a look of astonishment on His face letting the revelation sink in. “How could it have been? How could we not have seen?”
“Cephas saw it,” Miriam answered. “Perhaps, the others of the twelve? I am sure His Mother knew all along.”
“What must it be, to know your own son is also… I don’t know. We have looked upon the Face of God and lived!”
“I have scolded and berated Him,” Miriam marveled. “What must He have thought!”
“He loves you,” the stranger answered quietly.
“What you say is strangely like the sort of thing Jesus used to say,” Clophas remarked. “Who are you?”
There was a knock on the door, and a servant entered bearing the bread and wine. He set them on the table in the center of the room, bowed and left.
“Come. Recline and eat with me,” the stranger invited.
Without comment, as if it was the most natural thing in the world that this stranger should invite them to join him at the meal that they had bought and paid for, Clophas and Miriam moved to the cushions by the table. The stranger sat reclined at the head, and reaching out His hand He took the bread. Raising His eyes to Heaven He thanked God for it, Blessed it and Broke it, saying, “Take this, both of you, and eat. This is my Body, which is given up for you.”
Without warning, Clophas felt terror welling up in him at these words. In response to them there flooded to his mind all of his sins, every one of them as far back as he could remember. He saw thousand upon thousand acts of petty cruelty, uncounted lustful glances, less than honest statements to business associates, snubs and jibes and cruel words to his wife, to his sons, to complete strangers. He saw them, and could not hide. “All of these I have done,” he whispered.
Then he saw more, not things that he had done, but things he might have done but chose not to do. He saw beggars, orphans and widows that he had turned aside from, restitution for wrongs that he had never made, truths he had never spoken. He saw the countless times he had withheld words of praise or kindness or love to his family and those closest to him.
He wept in sorrow, and he saw that Miriam beside him was weeping also. He looked back to the stranger.
Clophas had heard the Master speak of the infinite compassion of God, and it had seemed to him a beautiful idea, but not one that he really needed or understood. Now he saw that he needed it. He needed it with all his being.
He understood it, now, because he saw it. It had never occurred to him to wonder what infinite compassion would look like formed on a human face. He probably would have thought it impossible, but this Man was looking upon him with more love than he had known in his entire life. It
That face! The eyes, the mouth, the beard, they were all His. The pierced hands were holding out to him a torn chunk of bread, and He was saying, “Take it and eat.”
But it was not bread, really. The stranger had changed it. “This is My body,” he had said. Clophas believed and because he believed he hesitated. But the stranger continued to hold it out to him with that same look of love.
Clophas took and ate, and gave some also to his wife.
“Who are you?” he asked.
Jesus took the chalice, blessed it, and raised it over His head saying, “This is my Blood, the Blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Clophas threw himself flat on his face and he felt Miriam doing the same beside him. “Jesus! My Lord, my Savior, my God. Have mercy upon a poor, foolish sinner.”
“Take the cup, Uncle,” Jesus told him. Clophas could hear the twinkle in His eye and the laughter in His heart. He raised himself up and reaching out, received the cup from his nephew. Jesus smiled at Him, wrinkling up His brown eyes until they almost shut, just like He always had. He had smiled just like that while they spoke on the road, but they had not recognized Him.
“Take it and drink, and give it to Auntie as well.”
Clophas obeyed. He raised the cup to his lips and drank, and then handed it to Miriam who did they same. When they had finished it, they turned back to where Jesus had been sitting.
He was gone.
“Jesus!” Miriam called out. “Where have you gone? Do not go away.”
“He hasn’t, Miriam,” Clophas laughed for sheer joy. “Did you not hear? ‘This is my Body. This is my Blood!’ He has not and never will leave us as long as there is a follower of His anywhere in this world.”
“How did we not recognize Him?” Miriam asked.
“We did not believe,” Clophas answered. “But still we recognized Him without knowing it. Didn’t your heart burn when He explained the scriptures to us? Who but Jesus could speak like that?”
“He spoke as if He were the Master of the Scripture itself! Just as He always used to, when He confounded all the scholars.”
“Because He is! He is Master of the Scriptures and the Sabbath, and the storms and winds, and everything else, just as He was always saying. Even death!”
“Only we were too stupid to listen,” Miriam laughed. “I shouldn’t be laughing because it’s a terrible thing. Only I don’t suppose it matters to Him anymore, so why should it matter to us?”
Clophas leapt to his feet. “Grab your cloak, Wife. Let the landlord keep the money, but we will not be sleeping here tonight. We must get back to the others and tell them everything.”
“I declare! I feel young enough that I could run the whole blessed way!” Miriam danced around the room like a little girl.
They snatched up their cloaks and ran down the stairs. They paused only to bless the innkeeper and the few guests in the common room, before skipping out into the gathering darkness. Hand in hand, with light in their hearts and psalms on their lips, they began the long walk back up to Jerusalem together.