3rd Sunday of Easter – 19th April 2015

"Understanding the Scriptures"

Scripture Reading – Luke 24:35-48
The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised Jesus at the breaking of bread.
They were still talking about all this when Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you!’ In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood there dumbfounded; so he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.
Then he told them, ‘This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms has to be fulfilled.’ He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.’

REFLECTION

In the readings for the third Sunday of Cycle B in Easter we meet people struggling to accept that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. They are being invited on a journey of repentance – that is to understand in a new way how God relates with us.

In the first reading Peter speaks to the Jews and tells them that it was the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their ancestors who raised Jesus from the dead, but, it was they, the Israelites who had him betrayed and crucified. However, what happened was God’s plan for salvation and this they did not understand. They are now called to repent – that is change their ways and, in light of Jesus’ Resurrection accept that God is with them in ways they had not considered.

The disciples too, find the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead hard to believe and accept. The two disciples who had met Jesus on the way to Emmaus and recognised him when he broke the Bread, had returned to Jerusalem and explained to their colleagues what had happened. Then Jesus appeared in their midst and said ‘Peace be with you’. Evan though the disciples had been told Jesus was alive and it had only been three days since he died, they did not recognise him when he appeared to them. They were frightened and thought he was a ghost.

Jesus’ death and resurrection had changed him but his presence among them was a reality. He showed them his hands and feet and invited them to touch him. While this filled them with joy they still could not believe what was happening in their presence. To convince them, he asked for something to eat and they gave him a ‘piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes’.

Through these simple signs the disciples overcame their doubts and were able to receive the gifts which enabled them to understand the Scriptures and know that Christ had to suffer and, on the third day would rise from the dead and that repentance and forgiveness would be preached in Jesus Name to all nations.

Just like the Israelites whom Peter had addressed, the disciple were also called to repentance. Their unbelief was an obstacle to making known the news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Before they could become witnesses of the Resurrection they needed to repent – that is accept that God communicates with us as he sees best, not as we would wish. They needed to understand how God, in his infinite mercy and wisdom wants to love us.

Jesus patiently and gently helped the disciples to repent – that is come to a new understanding of Jesus’ mission, life, death and Resurrection. They began to see events from God’s perspective and were able to embrace the future with confidence. It took time and patience to overcome their incredulity.

It is the same with us. Our lack of belief, faith, poor attention and ways of life are big obstacles to accepting the Resurrection and God’s love for humanity.

We find it hard to talk about our faith and share it with others. Faith is regarded as something private. But it is in sharing our faith that it grows.

We find it hard to accept the cross – what kind of God would ask his only son to undergo a crucifixion?

Work, entertainment, social media, and social activities – all good things – but they leave us with no time for God. We have become inattentive to the ways of God.

God longs for our attention, our time and our love. He longs for us to live in the freedom of his truth. Our task is to allow God open our minds and hearts so that we, like the disciples, can receive the gift of his love and become witnesses to his Resurrection in the world.

Lord, we give thanks to you for your infinite patience and love for us. Guide us to open our hearts and minds to your Spirit. Bless us so that we can make your joy and love visible in our world. We trust that Mary, your mother and our mother will always intercede for us, as she did for the young couple at Cana. Amen.

INTRODUCTION TO LECTIO DIVINA

Luke’s version of the meeting of the Risen Jesus with his disciples has two main aims. The first is to overcome the incredulity of the disciples by highlighting the truth of the event. The apparition is not a ghost. He is able to eat and he can be touched, seen and heard. The narrator lays great insistence on the inability of the witnesses to believe what they saw and to understand what they heard. If it had not been for the intervention of Jesus, they would have gone on believing that he was dead. The Risen Lord had to go to great lengths to show that he was alive. The second aim of the account is to convince believers that what happened is part of a divine plan. It fulfils God’s promise and brings salvation to those who believe, as Jesus himself demonstrated to his first disciples. Belief in the Resurrection of Jesus means, therefore, believing in a plan of God that includes us. Jesus is alive today. He is our hope. He assures us of tomorrow and of the future. The witness to Jesus hopes for what he believes and believes in what he hopes for. He knows that Jesus is alive in the life of anyone who has found the Risen Lord. Anyone who lives with him now, will live forever in his company. He will have to make that hope a reality if it is to be credible.

LECTIO DIVINA

I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

Luke concludes his gospel with a long interview between Jesus and two of his disciples. It takes place in Jerusalem (Lk 24, 36-49.52-53) and in the outskirts of Bethany (Lk 24, 50-51), on the evening of the first day of the week (Lk 24, 1.29).  At sunset, as the disciples were coming together, Jesus appeared unexpectedly in their midst, and wished them peace (Lk 24, 36; Jn 20, 19). His presence upset them, causing them surprise and unbelief. They could not believe what they saw. They thought it was a ghost (Lk 24, 37.39).  The earlier appearance to Peter (Lk 24, 34), and the testimony of the disciples at Emmaus, had been of little use. Jesus was amazed at their reaction and went to great lengths to convince them of his identity. He allowed them to touch him, since seeing was not enough for them (Lk 24, 39). He ate the food they had prepared (Lk 24, 41) to enable them to recognize him (Lk 24, 39) and to restore their joy (Lk 24, 41).

Just like those at Emmaus (Lk 24, 17.32-33), these disciples passed from initial surprise (Lk 24,37), to joy (Lk 24,41), once they had overcome their doubts (Lk 24,38). The Risen Lord had to convince his witnesses, and overcome their resistance (Mt 28, 17; Lk 24,11; Jn 20,25-27). Unbelief was not born in the hearts of his enemies – it was nourished by the inability of his witnesses to believe. There is certainly an apologetic intention, but the fact responds to the truth. The disciples’ first reaction was one of doubt, but later they became his witnesses. However, they would never have emerged from their doubt if the Risen Lord had not done so much to help them. He allowed them to touch him, and he ate with them. Luke does not mean to say anything here about the corporeal reality of the Risen Lord. Being able to be touched and to eat does not prove the new capabilities of the body of the Risen body, but it supports the objectivity of the experience of the witnesses. They no longer believed that they were seeing a ghost, because now they were able to share in his life as they had done before his death. Nobody could be a more credible witness than these men who at first did not believe in what they had seen.

Only when the Risen Lord had won them over, was he able to catechize them. His discourse is in two parts, with a similar introduction (Lk 24,44a.46a). In the first, Christ reveals the profound meaning of what he had told them during his ministry (Lk 24, 44b-45). In the second part he refers to future tasks to be accomplished by the disciples (Lk 24, 46-49). All that he had told them while he was with them, and had now explained to them, has as its objective the mission he was entrusting to them.

As he had already done previously (Lk 24,6-7.26-27), the Risen Lord reminds his disciples that he had predicted all that happened (Lk 9,22; 17,25; 18,31-33), and that all that had been foretold in the scriptures had been fulfilled. His life, past and present, corresponds perfectly with God’s plan. Not everyone, however, can understand this, but only those whom he chooses. It is not enough to open the scriptures – their minds and hearts must be opened. It is in the light of the paschal experience that we begin to understand the preaching of Jesus, which is itself the Word of God. Starting from the paschal experience we discover the meaning of Scripture and in it we see the destiny of Jesus foretold (Lk 24, 46). We see, specifically, the need for him to die, the good news of his resurrection, his call to conversion and his proclamation of forgiveness to all nations.

Luke attributes to the Risen Lord even the contents of the gospel he proclaims to evangelizers.

The mission of the evangelizers and their task is an order from which there is no escape. Instructed by the Lord, they now receive the mission to preach to every creature (Lk 24, 47) and to make converts (Acts 2,36-38). They receive also the promise of the Father (Lk 24, 49) and the command to remain in Jerusalem. It is from there that Christian evangelization must begin (Acts 1, 8), when they receive the power that will make them witnesses of all these things (Lk 24,48).

II. Meditate:  apply what the text says to life

The gospel insists on the event that happened that first day of the week, when the Risen Jesus came among his disciples to free them from their doubt and fears, and convince them that he really was alive. To us it might seem surprising, even inexplicable, and without any possible excuse, that the people closest to Jesus were so slow in coming to believe that he had risen. We forget that they had seen him dying and they knew the place where he was buried. They were eye-witnesses of his death and ill-prepared to accept the reality of a life that they could not even imagine, of which they had no experience, and which they were not in any way expecting.

It is no easier for us today than it was for the first disciples, to reach the conviction that Christ is alive. We did not see him dying on the cross but it is difficult for us to imagine him alive in our midst. This is our problem. We confess that Jesus is risen, but we have to admit that, at the end of the day, we are not too sure of it, since we have never met him. It is easy to repeat with our lips the statement of his resurrection, since we did not see him dying on the cross, but we find it hard to feel that we are accompanied by the Risen Lord. Like the first disciples, we do not really believe what we say we believe. Our heart does not credit what our lips profess. Anyone who knows that the Risen Christ has conquered death, fears nothing, not even death, neither his own nor that of loved ones. Where, then, do our fears come from, and our lack of hope? How is it that we are not quite sure of a life after death, if we confess that Christ has risen from the dead?

Why is it that we are so slow to share our faith with one another, that we are afraid to speak the hope that sustains us in adversity, and we lack the simplicity to be sincere with those who share our love of Christ? Without any doubt, we would be surprised to discover how many have put their best hope in Christ, and how many feel that our Lord is truly alive. But we need to say it openly. Faith which is not expressed, if it is not already dead, is condemned to death. It is possible that our faith might die, especially if we persist in keeping it to ourselves, in the intimacy of our own hearts. Anyone who knows that Christ is risen must not stay silent. He must tell the world, beginning, as the first disciples did, with those closest to him.

The Emmaus story reminds us today that Jesus appeared to those who were together, talking about what they had seen and heard. They still did not believe, but they were already talking about what had happened. And while they were talking, the Risen Lord came among them. It is true that he still had to overcome their fears and their doubts, but they were already trying to convince each other that they had seen him alive. We today could miss the opportunity of meeting Christ, simply by not being with those who share with us their faith and their hope in the Risen Lord. It may well be that our faith is not yet strong, but that is no reason to hold back from sharing it.

Anyone who lives his faith alone, apart from the community of believers, cannot be sure that he will not lose it. It is possible to believe in the Risen Lord only within the community, where we can draw strength from the experiences of others, and at the same time give hope to others by giving them our time and our attention. The best defence of our common faith is a faith lived in common, sharing what we already know about Jesus with someone who may not know as much, witnessing who Christ is for us and how we came to the conviction that he is really alive. This is how we can help others to reach the kind of faith we have, and, at the same time, prepare for another meeting with him when he will confirm us in the certainty that he is risen.

Today, more than ever, our faith is threatened. Believers, for the mere fact of being believers, feel less understood. We are not taken seriously simply because we continue to believe in Christ. But we have a unique opportunity to rediscover our enthusiasm for the faith and our own self-confidence. All we have to do is go back to talking to one another about our faith, sharing our efforts to remain faithful, celebrating the hope we have in common, and the Lord will allow himself to be seen by us, as he was seen by the disciples on that first day of the week.

He will free us from our anxiety and fill us with his peace. Maybe the reason why we find it so hard to be believers is that we try to succeed on our own, trusting in our own efforts.

We need to think seriously about this. Jesus allowed himself to be seen and touched by those he found united, sharing their doubts but also their conviction that he was alive. He did everything possible to persuade them, by sharing with them, eating at table with them, and explaining the things they still did not understand. Little do we realize what we are depriving ourselves of when we persist in living our faith in isolation, without the support of those who believed before us or believe more than we do.

By not sharing with those who are willing to share their life and faith, we deprive ourselves of the certainty of having Jesus present with us. What is even more important, we miss the opportunity to hear Jesus while he explains all those things about him that we do not yet understand, while he clarifies our doubts and overcomes our fears. We frequently complain that we do not hear God. It seems that he speaks less and less to us each day. We begin to think that he has already lost interest in us. And yet, we move away from those who still hear him, who are still in communication with him and listen to his voice. Our way of behaving is not very logical. The fact that we do not feel God close to us, should not drive us away from those who are close to him. Just because we do not hear his voice, is no reason to distance ourselves from those who do. We should, instead, use our difficulty in believing to seek those who have overcome their difficulty, or are at least trying to overcome it, so that we can face our difficulties together.

Sharing our faith makes it easier for us to be faithful, because Jesus reveals himself to those who come together to wait for him. There is no time to lose! If we feel bad about the weakness of our life of faith, if we are not fully convinced that Jesus is really alive, and if we are not able to put all our hope in him, we should look for a community of people who speak often from their hearts about him. There our faith will revive and our hope will increase. It’s worth trying! Instead of running the risk of losing God, we should be prepared to lose some of our time, give up some of our favourite pastimes, lose something of our very lives, and look for him with those who will share with us their deep desire to find him. There are many who seek the Risen Christ. He will not cease to come to us if we come together in looking for him.