Gospel: Luke 24:35-48
A New Context
Have you ever experienced something so strange you had to re-orient your thinking to explain the experience? What happened?
Experiences can overwhelm us, dazzle us. Sometimes experiences change us. But there are those rare experiences that leave us completely flustered. We cannot give the experience a context. The experience does not change what we know or feel. It does not even change the way we live. The strange nature of the experience challenges us to seek a completely new understanding, a entirely different context if you will.
If you have never had such an experience, consider the conversion experiences of your family, friends, or fellow church members. Many of those people had experiences that led them on a life-long journey to faith. They had to find a context to give their experience or their inner yearnings a true home.
The followers of Jesus had such an experience. What they saw, heard, and touched so completely flustered them, the disciples needed the risen Jesus to give them the context for true understanding.
(The two men who walked toward Emmaus returned to Jerusalem so they could talk to Jesus' followers.) 35 The men explained what happened on the way to Emmaus and how they recognized Jesus when he broke bread with them.
36 While they were discussing what happened, Jesus stood among them."Peace be with you," he said. 37 The followers of Jesus were so scared when Jesus appeared, they thought they had seen a ghost! 38-39 "Why are you so upset? Why do you think such things?" Jesus said to them."Look at my hands and feet. Touch me. See, it's really me! A ghost doesn't have flesh and bones as you see I have." 40 After he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 But they were so filled with joy and wonder, they just couldn't believe it was true. So Jesus asked them, "Do you have anything to eat here?" 42 They gave him a piece of cooked fish. 43 He took the fish and ate it in front of everyone.
44 Then Jesus said to his followers, "When I lived among you, I told you what would happen, so everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms would come true." 45 Then Jesus helped his followers really understand the Bible. 46 "It is written in the Bible that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day," Jesus continued. 47 "The Bible also tells us that a message would be preached everywhere in the Christ's name: 'God will give people a chance to turn their lives around. If they do, God will forgive them.' This message will first be preached in Jerusalem. 48 All of you are witnesses to everything that has happened."
In the aftermath of the walk to Emmaus, as Luke recorded, Jesus appeared to his followers, gave them convincing proof of his resurrection, and opened their minds so they could preach about the Messiah.
35 They explained the (events that happened) on the way, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
36 While they were saying these (things), HE HIMSELF stood in the middle of them and said to them, "Peace to you." 37 Having been terrified and having become fearful, they were thinking (they) saw a spirit.
24:36 "While they were saying these (things)" is a temporal participial clause.
24:37 "(they) saw a spirit" is an infinitive.
This passage began like other Resurrection narratives. Jesus appeared with the greeting of "Shalom," God's peace. The reaction of the disciples to their first sight of the Lord is the same. They felt fear and a sense of awe.
Yet, in spite of the testimony from the women and the two travelers, the disciples still could not believe their eyes when Jesus appeared before them. Why were they so upset? The appearance itself might not have caused their discomfort. After all, visions were far more accepted in the culture of Jesus than in the modern Western culture with its scientific scepticism. The disciples had advanced knowledge that Jesus was risen. But they were not ready for the TYPE of experience they encountered. The appearance of the risen Lord was so new, it was outside the experience or comprehension of the disciples. They could not rightly interpret the experience; they could not put it into a proper context. In fact, they were powerless. Only Jesus could validate the experience and supply its proper understanding.
38 HE said to them, "Why are you troubled, and what thoughts arise in your hearts? 39 See MY hands and MY feet that (it is) I MYSELF. Touch ME and see (ME). A spirit does not have flesh and bones just as you see ME having." 40 Having said this, HE showed them (HIS) hands and feet. 41 Since they still did not believe from joy, and (since they) wondered, HE said to them, "Do you have something in this place to eat?" 42 They gave to him a piece of cooked fish. 43 Having taken (it) before them, he ate (it).
24:38 "What thoughts arise in your hearts?" Ancient people believed the heart ("nous" in Greek) was the source of reason and emotion.
24:39 "Touch ME and see (ME)." The pronoun "me" is the object of both verbs.
24:41 "Since they still did not believe from joy, and (since they) wondered..." The disciples were so overwhelmed with emotion and incredulity, they did not fully grasp the truth of the situation.
First, Jesus would prove their experience was no hoax. Like the appearance to Thomas in John's gospel, Jesus showed his wounds and challenged his followers to "touch" him. The experience of the Risen Lord was tactile. Jesus has substance, unlike a ghost. Unlike John 20, Jesus showed his followers his hands and feet (not his hands and side). Here, Luke inferred Jesus had been nailed in his feet.
This passage also paralleled John 21 with the subject of the cooked fish. In John 21:9-14, Jesus was cooking the fish. He blessed it and gave it with his followers to eat. But in Luke, the disciples gave Jesus the cooked fish to eat. If Luke 13:35-48 is combined with the narrative from the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), both stories involved the breaking of bread (Luke 24:30, 35 and John 21:13). The most notable narratives with the blessing of bread and fish were the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Mark 6:30-44, 8:1-9; Matthew 14.13-21, Matthew 15.32-39; Luke 9.10-17; John 6.1-14). A meal that featured fish and bread was common around the Sea of Galilee and in Jerusalem (dried fish was sold in the marketplaces as food for the common people). Such meals were a regular part of life on the road with Jesus and his followers. Whether meals of fish and bread had any religious significance to the apostolic communities is a matter of some debate among scholars (were they meals of leadership?). If there was a so-called "fish and bread Eucharists" (as John Dominic Crossan likes to call them), the rituals died quickly as Christianity spread to areas that did not have a ready supply of fish.
The deeper issue did not lie with the meal but with the quality of the vision experience. Jesus appeared as a living, solid form. This would have a great impact on the spirituality of Christianity. The holy could be found in the tangible. Holiness was not only a matter of ecstacy, touching the transcendent, while leaving the world behind. No, God reached his people through his creation, not in spite of it. This insight became the foundation of the Church's self-awareness as the Body of Christ. It also grounded the worship in the Church as sacramental. The believer could encounter the Risen Christ through the bodily senses. His followers saw, touched, and heard the Risen One. We see, hear, and touch Christ today through the sacraments, through shared witness and serve to others. But, when we, like the early followers, experience Christ through the common items of the world, what is his message?
44 He said to them, "These (things I refer to) are MY words I spoke to you when I was still with you, because everything having been written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms needed to be fulfilled." 45 Then HE (thoroughly) opened their minds so as to understand the scriptures. 46 HE said to them, "Thus it has been written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that a repentance and a forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name among all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these (things)."
24:43 "These (things I referred to) are MY words I spoke to you when I was still with you." The "things" are his risen state, the result of the resurrection which he prophesied ("my words I spoke to you") during his ministry ("when I was still with you"). His appearance to his disciples justified his ministry as the Suffering Servant (that is, his ministry in Galilee, his ministry in Jerusalem, and his death).
24:45 "HE (thoroughly) opened their minds so as to understand the scriptures." Since the heart and the mind were synonymous to the ancients, understanding meant more than intellectual clarification. Understanding also encompassed emotional focus.
As Jesus had validated the vision experience, he had to give it a context. As the notes above explain, Jesus justified his risen state, as he referred back to his ministry (first) and finished with the Scriptures (second). Reread Luke 24:44-47 without 24:45 to get the flow of his explanation:
(Jesus) said to them, "These (things I refer to) are MY words I spoke to you when I was still with you, because everything having been written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms needed to be fulfilled. Thus it has been written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that a repentance and a forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name among all nations, beginning in Jerusalem."
Jesus reminded his disciples that he prophesied his resurrection during his earthly ministry. Then he placed in the greater context of the Scriptures: the Law, the prophets, and the psalms. The "Law and the prophets" were code words for the Hebrew Scriptures which the Pharisees revered. The "Law...and the psalms" were revered by the Sadducees as basis for Temple worship. By including the term "psalms" with the "Law and the prophets" (an unusual combination), Luke not only wanted to change the interpretation of Scripture through the words of Jesus, he wanted to validate the newly developing forms of Christian worship. This change was a radical shift from the way Jesus' early Jewish followers lived (a live dominated by spirit and regulations of the Pharisees and Sadducees). The new Christian communities among the Gentiles (to which Luke addressed his gospel) had new needs, new insights, and new ways to live out the Christian message. No wonder Luke edited in 24:45 ("Then HE thoroughly opened their minds so as to understand the Scriptures.") The followers needed to open their minds and hearts to new possibilities as they fulfilled the mandate to preach repentance and forgiveness everywhere in the name of Jesus. After all, they were witness to a new reality.
Catechism Themes: The Mission of the Church (CCC 849-856)
"All of you are witnesses to everything that has happened." As witnesses, the early disciples were charged to tell others what they saw. Not only did Jesus command them, the Spirit impelled them to preach to all nations as the Father desired. Hence the missionary activity of the early disciples, as it is now in the Church, stemmed from the activity of the Trinity. As Father, Son, and Spirit are now working in the world, they desire that we, the Church, lead all people into union with the Godhead.
As the commentary above implied, we are called to share what we have seen, heard, and touched with others. We, like the early Christians, are to witness to God activity in his creation and among his people. Witness involves speaking the truth in love. Telling others God's truth about faith in Christ. Extending God's love (that we enjoy) to others. The cost of this endeavor is high for it leads to the cross. The reward is that much greater, for it leads to the resurrection.
How has your Christian experience change you? How have you had to change in the face of Christian witness?
Over the past two weeks, the Sunday gospels have recalled the confusion and fear caused by the Resurrection. They have also echoed Jesus' greeting of Shalom that soothed the emotions of the early followers. This Sunday added a new element to the disciples' vision experience: a context for understanding. This context would sustain the changes the Church would undergo in its first few generations of believers.
We, like most Christians, are tempted to take the context for granted. The Good News might become the old news. To shake off this inclination, let us place ourselves in the company of those who first heard the words of the two from Emmaus. Better yet, let us place ourselves in the company of those who evangelize others by word and deed. Let us walk with those who serve the poor and needy in the name of Christ. Let us walk with those who serve the children or those outsiders who seek Christ. In the mere process of being witness, the context comes alive. For Christ walks with us when we serve others.
Alleluia! Jesus truly is risen! Alleluia!
Reflect over your experience of the past Easter. If it hasn't sustained you, plan to seek out others who will help you rekindle the Easter fire. Spend some time with those friends. Listen to their Easter stories and their Christian passion. If your experience has sustained you, seek out others you can encourage and enlighten.