Just on down the road, a dust devil swirled into mad, manic life, and skittering across the dusty pathway, spun out into nothing among the rocks beyond.

He stepped cautiously forward, walking steadily but with hesitations, almost as one with a lame ankle or a sore toe. It was a fact that going up to Jerusalem necessarily meant going down as you left, whether to the east and down the rocky defiles leading to Jericho, or the longer and less steep decline to the west, on towards the Roman’s Mare Nostrum, the Great Sea, the Mother of Storms.

There had been great storms yesterday, and a shaking of the earth, but the western sky had not foreshadowed with “a cloud the size of a man’s hand” on the horizon. It came up suddenly, full of lightning and wind, but who had really been watching the skies off to one side?

Shaking his head, he banished the vision of Friday’s events from his mind, and went back to watching the ground closely, for loose rocks that could make his already shaky legs twist right out from beneath him. One sandal was already mended with cordage, where the leather had torn as he ran up the side of the olive tree covered slope, stepping on a rock in the late Thursday darkness. He’d been able to find the lost sandal and keep running, hopping, ludicrous in his fear mixed with anxiety over having to purchase a new sandal.

Even with Roman soldiers at his back, imagined in pursuit, poverty squeezed his thoughts into their mold. It was a puzzle still that they had not followed anyone, but the teacher, their leader, was apparently all they wanted.

A scrap of cord in a gardener’s shed near the top of the mount let him find his footing and his dignity of a sort. Back to their Passover throng’s campsite among the olive oil presses, the “gethsemane” workshop busy during the fall harvest, but where springtime visitors to the Holy City were welcome as out of season guests.

Among the rattled, confused followers of the Galilean rabbi whom he had recently joined, all that he could make out was that an arrest had happened, spurred by the betrayal of one of the core followers, the students, the “discipuli” who came to Jerusalem from the north.

Some said the soldiers had taken their captive to the main fortress overlooking the Temple Mount, the Antonia, others said it was to the Chief Priest’s palatial home at the other end of the city walls. Most went back to a troubled sleep.

By noon the next day there was no question where the focus of attention had turned, to the Romans’ preferred killing ground just west of the city’s exit to the west, the main road of commerce and travel, where most of the visitors for this sacred week would leave and have to choose to turn away, or to glance up, cringe, and keep moving.

He had stayed far away, but his wife joined a group of women who stood near the condemned man’s mother – odd how it was hard to think of him as a teacher, having been refuted and rejected and tormented to such a shameful death. He was the condemned man, innocent though he might be, but if Rome said he was guilty, then who . . .

Stumbling forward, starting at any sudden movement in the brush or stony slopes on either side, he kept his unsteady route to Ein Kerem. His wife had family there, and when they met near the city gate, after the dead body had been removed from the cross and carried to a nearby tomb, she told him they would meet at Ein Kerem tomorrow, and then Sunday walk on down to Emmaus, and from there back to Joppa. The women would grieve together, while the men scattered.

Cleopas thought about the hope for God’s active working in the world that he had felt so strongly just days before, and how hopeless he felt now, fearful again of bad luck, dust devils in his path, the weight of Roman rule hard across his shoulders.

He was glad the two of them were walking, not paying to rent a mule, but just taking one step at a time, quietly letting the miles wear the sadness down. There was an inn at Emmaus where he had known comfort before, and hoped to enjoy again; there they might find a measure of peace.

That was his prayer, as he walked away from Jerusalem on a Saturday afternoon.

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Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow on Twitter at “Knapsack.”

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