Let’s start off with a riddle… Once, a father and his son were driving along in the country together when they got into a terrible car crash. They were both seriously injured and ambulances rushed them to two different hospitals. But when the boy was brought into the Emergency Room, the surgeon on duty saw him and declared, “I can’t operate on him. He’s my son.” How can this be…? The trick of the riddle is that we tend to assume that surgeons will be male. The answer is that the surgeon is the boy’s mother.
There is a similar trick of the mind at work when we hear the story of the two travelers on the road to Emmaus; we always assume that they were two men. It’s not wonder, since virtually every painting of the encounter on the road to Emmaus will show Jesus with two men. For example, look at the relief on the front of our altar. Many people assume that this is a depiction of the Last Supper (but that there are only two apostles shown because we had to crop it down to size.) Actually, this scene is from after His Passion—you can see crosses on the hill in the distance and there are wound marks in Jesus’ hands. What we have here is to two men at the house in Emmaus, shocked to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
The artistic depictions always show two men [the picture on the right being the only possible exception I could find], however the original Greek does not call them “two men,” or even “two disciples.” It only says there were “two of them” and that one of them was a man named Cleopas. As to the name and gender of the other traveler, the gospel text is silent. Perhaps the second person’s identity is left as a mystery so as to invite any of us to imagine ourselves in their place in this story. This may be the extent of what we can know for certain, but there is an interesting clue from another Gospel that suggests more detail.
In Gospel of John, it says that “standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas….” (John 19:25) So we have a Clopas and Cleopas both associated with Jesus. Perhaps these similar names are merely a coincidence, but perhaps Clopas and Cleopas are variations of the same person’s name. If Clopas and Cleopas are one in the same person, then the other traveler on the road was probably his wife, Mary. This Mary was most likely either Jesus’ aunt and the sister of St. Joseph, or one of the cousins of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What we do know for certain is that this Mary stood with Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross.
Admittedly, it is speculation to say the other traveler was Cleopas’ wife, but if it was, then this Resurrection episode has a much greater poetry. In the Garden of Eden, a husband and wife ate from a tree. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked.” They felt ashamed and afraid. But in the house at Emmaus, a husband and wife ate the Eucharist, the fruit of the tree of the cross. “With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” They felt joyful and unafraid. In Eden, God moved about the garden with the man and the woman. After the resurrection, Jesus walks with us, both men and women, along our road.
But whether that second traveler on the road was a woman or not, it would be a remain mistake to think that only men were important in the early Church. That would be at least as mistaken as thinking that every surgeon is a male. Jesus Christ chose some men to be the Church’s leaders, and much is said about them in the Scriptures, but He chose to spread the good news about Himself through the witness of women as well.
Though we sing of the “Faith of Our Fathers,” the faith of our mothers has been just as important, if not more, through time. Today, it is oftentimes mom who takes the forefront in fostering faith in the family, in leading her children to Christ and His Church; through bedtime prayers and Bible stories, by bringing them to Mass and to CCD, in seeing to it that they receive the graces of the sacraments. If you feel like you’re alone in witnessing to the faith in your family, I commend you, and Jesus is proud of you.
There is another trick of the mind when it comes to celebrating Mother’s Day. On Mother’s Day we remember our mothers, who gave us birth and nurtured us, who raised us and put up with us, but we tend to forget about the greatest gift, the gift of our faith. At the Easter vigil the Exultet asks: “What good would life have been to us, had Christ not come as our redeemer?” Indeed, what good would life be to us if after our births we had not also been brought to Christ through the witness of holy women. Who were these holy women in your life? At this Mother’s Day Mass, let us remember and pray not only for our mothers in the natural order, but for each of our spiritual mothers as well.