How do we know Jesus? How shall we find him in our lives? Will we recognize him when we find him? What experiences have we had that made our hearts burn within us? When have our eyes been opened to the Lord’s presence? What do we do with our gifts? Do we share our blessing with the poor, the persecuted, the sick, the hungry and the homeless? When will the transcendent meaning of the familiar break in upon us?
Now I think most of us are familiar with story of three astrologers/magi who went in search of a baby expected to become a king. Some of you may have heard the story of a fourth wise man who also went in search of the baby. But there is a less well-known story that is about a woman who lived in a distant land at about the same time, a woman who had also heard the prophecies about the birth of a child who would change the course of history. So let me tell you the story:
Eudora had never married; but she had been successful in business and was considered well off, even well-to-do. And although she had not the slightest connection with the family, she had this unshakable urge to go in search of the holy child whose birth was foretold so that she might worship and learn, even though learning from an infant seemed ridiculous to her. But in those days women were considered to be somewhat irrelevant, so she couldn’t go with the men. She prepared to journey alone.
While Eudora had no children, like most women she knew what was important. Wishing to bring gifts, she brought the best of what she had that would be appropriate. Eudora brought her finest cloth: soft, pure white linen and cloth of deep purple for the child’s warmth; she brought her best goat which gave the richest milk, for it is known that a child may require more milk than a mother can provide; and she brought her finest meal and oil so that she might prepare bread to feed the growing child.
Eudora knew from legend that if she followed the star in the East, the brightest star, it would lead her to the child. She set off on her journey on her donkey, for women did not ride camels—camels were for men. She took with her the three gifts, as well as a sense of urgency and hope.
Eudora had traveled for many days when she came upon a woman with a number of children, all of whom seemed frightened and hid as she approached. After reassuring them that she meant no harm, Eudora learned of Herod’s order that all young male children of the Jews were to be killed, and that this woman had taken all the little boys from her village and hid them in the hills. But there was no food or milk for the children: they were in serious trouble.
Eudora looked at her goat. It was supposed to be a gift for the baby, but here were hungry children. What was she to do? If she used the goat and its milk for these children, she would still have two gifts—and how could she turn her back on these children? She chose to use the goat and the milk for these children and to sell the extra milk to obtain shelter and food for them.
Eudora remained in that place many days that stretched into many years, caring for and protecting the children so that they might survive. Eventually, the pull to complete her journey was too strong to resist and Eudora departed to complete her search. She had heard that Mary, Joseph and the baby had fled to Egypt and after the death of Herod, had returned to Nazareth. She had no star to guide her any longer, but she set off on her donkey with her two gifts in search of the baby, now a child.
Eudora had traveled for many days and months when she met a group of lepers. In those days, lepers were considered the very scourge of society. These lepers had no bandages for the sores that covered their limbs; nor did they have any clothes. Eudora was torn: these people were in need, but could she afford to delay her search again?
She wondered if she should use one of her two remaining gifts. Bringing only one gift seemed inadequate. What would this Jesus whom she hoped to worship and learn from think? But in the end she had compassion on the lepers and hoped that Jesus would understand. She used the soft pure white linen to make bandages, and she made the lepers the finest clothes from the cloth of deep purple—no one had such fine clothes.
Eudora was much delayed as she tended to the lepers and also sought out others to help them, without much success. After a delay of many years, she set out on her donkey once again in search of this Jesus, now a man. Now he was reported to be wandering all over Judea and Galilee, never staying in one place very long. She still had her one gift to present, and she could tell him that she loved him and wanted to learn from him. And so she set out, this time with even greater urgency, as she had heard that while some believed in this Jesus, others didn’t, and some were even plotting to kill him.
She had traveled for some time when she came upon a man and woman. The woman was pregnant and the couple was trying to get to the woman’s family before the child was born. Their progress was slow because they had no donkey and had to walk. Remembering the stories about another pregnant woman who rode a donkey many years before, Eudora gave the couple her donkey knowing that as she search, the object of her search also was walking—and she had yet to fine him.
So Eudora began walking, still with her one gift and the certain knowledge that at least she could tell this Jesus that she loved him, wanted to learn from him, and could offer to serve him in any way he asked. As she continued her search, she came upon a small group of men. Two of the men seemed to know each other, but the third didn’t seem to fit—he seemed to be a stranger to the others. Eudora drew near to hear their conversation.
The two who seemed to know one another were talking about recent events: of how they had seen Jesus nailed to a cross and killed, and how he had been buried in a cave. Now some were saying that he had risen from the dead—although everyone knew that was impossible. The third person, the stranger, seemed to be explaining what these events meant to the first two.
Tears flowed down Eudora’s cheeks as she listened. She had spent most of her life seeking this Jesus, and now she would never be able to tell him that she loved him, would never be able to learn what he had to teach, and would never come to know him. The men turned and asked what she was weeping for and so she shared the story of her journey with them, of the many delays, of her deep yearning to worship the baby, the child, the man, who was expected to be a king.
The two men who seemed to know each other suggested to Eudora that since she still had the one gift of meal and oil, and since they had no food, she could still give a gift by making them bread and they in return would tell her of their own experiences with Jesus.
Now the third man was very quiet, and his silence made Eudora feel very uncomfortable, very anxious, and very confused. Eudora just shrugged her shoulders and decided that she could at least make the bread in exchange for hearing the stories.
After she baked the bread and listened to the wonderful stories of Jesus, Eudora prepared to depart for her own country. The men, having convinced the stranger to join them, planned on going into the nearby village to spend the night. Eudora was not included, even for the meal, for it is known that women did not eat with men, but only cooked and served at table. But as she got ready to leave, the stranger put his hand on her head and said, “You are blessed, my child.” It seemed to her a very strange thing to say.
As the scriptures tell, the men continued into the village of Emmaus where the bread was broken, their eyes were opened and the truth was made known. The story often ends there; but there are those who believe that on a very distant day, in a distant place, Eudora met the stranger again. Smiling, he put his arms around her and pulled her tight and whispered: “My friend, the bread was delicious!”