Sunday, April 22, 2012
Jesus appears to the apostles
Luke 24: 35-48
1. Opening prayer
Shaddai, God of the mountain,
You who make of our fragile life
the rock of your dwelling place,
lead our mind
to strike the rock of the desert,
so that water may gush to quench our thirst.
May the poverty of our feelings
cover us as with a mantle in the darkness of the night
and may it open our heart to hear the echo of silence
until the dawn,
wrapping us with the light of the new morning,
may bring us,
with the spent embers of the fire of the shepherds of the Absolute
who have kept vigil for us close to the divine Master,
the flavour of the holy memory.
i) The text:
35 On their way back from Emmaus the two disciples told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. 36 As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you." 37 But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them. 44 Then he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
ii) A moment of silence:
Let us allow the sound of the Word to echo within us.
i) A few questions:
a) It happened that along the way, they recognised him: How many are the occasions of grace along the way of our existence? Do we recognise him as he breaks the bread of the moment with us in the inn at evening time?
b) Jesus himself among them. Look and touch: It is really I! Do we touch with our hands the gifts of freedom in the person of the living Christ and in the breaking of our togetherness?
c) Startled and frightened they supposed they were seeing a spirit: Which God attracts us? Is it the God of the unforeseen who is always beyond our little world, or is it the "spirit" God of our all-powerful desire?
d) They still disbelieved for joy: Is joy our walking stick on the journey? Is the sense of expectation alive in us or do we move in the shadow of resigning ourselves to our fate?
e) He opened their minds to understand the scriptures: Where is the creature image in our seeking? Have we made of Scripture nostalgia for a Word abandoned like the breeze of eternal Love among the branches of human suffering?
ii) A key to the reading:
The idea of a journey in Luke, mirrors well the theological itinerary of the journey of the intervention of grace in human events. John prepares the way for the Lord who is to come (Lk 1:76) and cries to level his ways (Lk 3:4); Mary goes out and hurries towards the mountains (Lk 1:39); Jesus, God's way (Lk 20:21), walks with human beings and marks the way of peace (Lk 1:79) and of life (Acts 2:28), walking the way himself first by his very existence. After the resurrection he continues the journey together with the disciples (Lk 24:32) and remains the protagonist on the journey of the Church that identifies itself with his journey (Acts 18:25). The whole raison d'être of the Church lies in this journey of salvation (Acts 16:17) that leads to God (Acts 18:2). She is called to live the way and to point it out to all so that everyone may leave his/her way (Acts 14:16) and walk towards the Lord who walks with those who belong to him.
v. 35. Then, going back from Emmaus, the two disciples explained what had happened on the road and how they had recognised the Lord when he broke the bread. The experience of meeting with Life, allows one to go back on one's tracks. This is not the going back of remorse or that of regret. It is the going back of one who re-reads his/her own story and knows that s/he will find, along the road, the place of one's record. We meet God in events. It is he who comes to meet us and walks beside us on the road, which is often dry and barren with things unfinished. God reveals himself through the familiar gestures of an experience long relished. These are the furrows of the already accomplished that welcome the novelty of a today without sunset. People are called to welcome the new presence of God on one's road where God reveals himself in the basic signs of a Christian community life: the Scriptures, read in a Christological light, and the breaking of the bread (Lk 24: 1-33). The history of humankind, privileged space for God's action, is the history of salvation that is inherent in all human situations and throughout the centuries in a kind of perennial exodus, full of the newness of the proclamation.
v. 36. While the two were telling them this, suddenly the Lord himself stood among them and said: "Peace be with you!". Luke wisely weaves the events in order to give a foundation and continuity to the history of salvation. The seeds proclaimed would flower and the atmosphere of newness, which blows gently through the pages of these events, form a basis for the development of a memoria Dei that crops up from time to time. Jesus returns to those who belong to him. He stands in their midst, himself, complete, as before, even though in a different manner that is now definitive. He manifests himself in his glorious bodily form to show that the resurrection is something that really happened.
v. 37. Startled and frightened they supposed they were seeing a spirit. The disciples' reaction does not seem to fit in well with the preceding story since they already believed in the resurrection on the word of Peter (v. 34). Their confusion, however, does not concern the conviction that Jesus is risen, but concerns the bodily nature of the risen Jesus. Thus there is no contradiction in the narrative. It was necessary for the disciples to experience intensely the bodily reality of the resurrection of Jesus for them to carry out adequately their future mission of witnessing to the good news and of clarifying ideas on the Risen One: they did not think it was Jesus himself, but supposed they were seeing a spirit.
vv. 38-40. But he said to them: "Why are you alarmed? Why are these doubts coming up in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet, and see that it is I myself. Feel me, and you will know, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you can see I have". He said this and showed them his hands and his feet. The Jesus of Luke's Gospel is almost a hero who meets his fate with certainty and the few shadows there are, serve only to underscore and emphasise the fullness of his being. Luke had recalled the humble origins and the genealogy, quite common and devoid of prestigious persons, a crowd of obscure people from whom the figure of the Christ sprang. In the turmoil and doubt of the disciples after the resurrection, it is clear that Jesus is not the Saviour of the great, but of all, startled and frightened though they may be. He, the protagonist in the journey of the Church, walks the human paths of disbelief in order to heal them with faith, and continues to walk in time, showing his hands and feet in the flesh and bones of believers.
vv. 41-42. They still could not believe, they were so full of joy and wonder; so he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of cooked fish, which he took and ate in their presence. Every invitation to sit at table, includes the desire for intimacy; it is a remaining, a sharing. The resurrection does not take away from Jesus the possibility of presenting himself as the place for sharing. That cooked fish, for years eaten together with his disciples, continues to be a means of communion. A fish cooked in love for each other; a food that does not cease to reassure the hidden hunger of humankind, a food capable of refuting the illusion of something that comes to an end among the ruins of the past.
v. 44. Then he said to them: "These are the very things I told you about while I was still with you: everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the writings of the prophets, and the Psalms had to come true". The moments of anxiety, of emotion, of tears for the nation (Lk 19:41), the exertion of going up to Jerusalem, the temptations, all these had defined the eternal border between humiliation-hiding and affirmation-glory focussed in the various phases of Jesus' human life in the light of the Father's will. Bitterness, obscurity and suffering had nourished the Saviour's heart: "I have a baptism to receive, and how distressed I am until it is over!" (Lk 12:50). Now the work of grace is visible because through the working of the Spirit, the eschaton, already accomplished in Christ and in the believer, creates an atmosphere of praise, a climate of joy and deep peace, typical of things accomplished. The parusia will mark the end of the salvific journey, a time of consolation and restoration of all things (Acts 3:21).
v. 45. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. The faith of the apostles in the resurrection is the hermeneutic key for an interpretation of the Scriptures and the basis of the paschal proclamation. The Bible is fulfilled in Christ, in him it is unified in his prophetic value and in him it acquires its full meaning. Human beings cannot of themselves understand the Word of God. The presence of the Risen One opens the mind to a full understanding of the Mystery hidden in the sacred words concerning human existence.
v. 45-47. "This is what is written: the Messiah must suffer and must rise from death three days later, and in his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations beginning in Jerusalem." In Luke salvation touches all the human dimensions through the working of Christ who saves from evil, who frees from darkness (Acts 26:18) and from sin (Lk 5:20-26; Acts 2:38), from disease and from suffering, from death, from disbelief and from idols; who realises human life in the community being of God, happy fraternity of love; who does not leave us orphans but is always present with his Spirit from on high (Acts 2:2). The radical salvation of humankind lies in freeing hearts of stone and in receiving a new heart, which implies a dynamism that frees from every form of slavery (Lk 4:16-22). God guides history; it is he who evangelises and guides the journey of those who belong to him. The evangelist of great horizons - from Adam to the kingdom, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth - he is also the evangelist of every day events. The historical-eschatological process is taking place through which concrete history is accomplished transcending human history and Jesus goes on offering salvation through his Spirit who creates witnesses capable of prophecy and of diffusing salvation until the time when Christ will return (Lk 21:28) when the complete freedom of humankind will be manifest. In Acts 2:37 we find a resume of the whole iter salutis suggested here: to welcome the word, to be converted, believe, be baptised, and obtain pardon of sins and the gift of the Spirit. The word of salvation, word of grace, unfurls its power in the heart of one who listens (Lk 8: 4-15), and the invocation of the Name of the Saviour seals salvation in the one converted to the faith. The action of Jesus through the Spirit, made present by the mediation of the Church (Acts 9: 3-5), complements the action accomplished through the Church to whom he himself refers as in the call of Paul (Acts 9: 6-18).
v. 48. You are witnesses of these things. The Christian community, called to map the journey of witnessing in human history, proclaims by word and deed the fulfilment of the kingdom of God among human beings and the presence of the Lord Jesus who continues to work as Messiah, Lord and prophet in his Church. The Church will grow and walk in the fear of the Lord, full of the consolation of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31). This is a journey of service, meant to echo the Word of salvation in the furthest ends of the earth (Acts 1:1-11). Gradually the journey goes further away from Jerusalem and goes to the heart of the pagan world. When it reaches Rome, capital of empire, Luke will put his signature to his evangelising steps. No one will be excluded in the process. All are meant to receive salvation, especially sinners for whose conversion there is great joy in heaven (Lk 15:7.10). Like Mary, who for Luke is the model of the disciple who walks in the Lord, believers are called to be completely transformed in order to live the messianic motherhood, whatever one's own "virginal" state, which is an expression of the poverty of being creature (Lk 1:30-35). The yes of the Magnificat is the way to go. We walk carrying within ourselves the word of salvation; we walk in faith, trusting in God who keeps his promises; we walk in the joy of Him who makes us blessed, not through any merit of ours but in humility of life. May Mary's itinerary be ours: to go, carried by the Spirit, towards our brothers and sisters, taking with us as our only luggage the saving Word: Christ the Lord (Acts 3:6).
In his meeting with people, Jesus offered his benevolent presence and waited for the seed of the word and of faith to sprout. When the apostles abandoned him, when Peter denied him, when the sinful woman loved him, when the Pharisees were closed to him, he was neither scandalised nor perturbed. He knew that what he had said and suggested to them would not be lost…and, indeed, after Pentecost these same people go before the Sanhedrin without fear to say that it is necessary to obey God rather human beings, Peter preaches openly even to dying on a cross like his Master, the women are sent as witnesses of the resurrection to the apostles and a Pharisee son of Pharisees, Paul of Tarsus, becomes the apostle of the gentiles.
If you, man or woman, cannot avoid living daily the death of yourself, you must not, however, forget that the resurrection is hidden in your wounds to make you live in him, even now. In your neighbour, who may be for you sepulchre of death and mud, a cursed cross, you will find new life. Yes, because the risen Christ will assume the semblance of your neighbour: a gardener, a traveller, a spirit, a person on the bank of a lake…When you can welcome the "challenge' of Pilate that echoes through the centuries and not accept the exchange suggested (Jn 18:39-40) because you will have learnt in the nights of forsakenness that you cannot barter your brigand's life with the life of Jesus, the only begotten son of the living God, the Lord of life and death, you who wear unworthily his name: Bar-Abba, son of the Father…then you too will shout like Thomas, the apostle, in the wonder of faith: "My Lord and my God" (Jn 20:28), my God and my all, and the beauty of your joy will never set on the horizon of your day.
Lord, we seek you and wish to see your face:
one day when the veil will be removed,
we shall be able to contemplate you.
We seek you in the Scriptures that speak of you:
under the veil of wisdom we welcome the cross, your gift to all.
We seek you in the radiant faces of our brothers and sisters:
we see you in the marks of your passion on their suffering bodies.
It is not our eyes, but our heart that sees you:
in the light of hope we hope to meet you and speak to you.
Lord, give us the perseverance to walk towards the summits, in the light of the only Word that saves. As blood brother or sister, the Blood that makes us all brothers and sisters, I remain here, near the tomb of every interior death to set out like a traveller on the paths of no feeling and come to the paths of friendship and meeting. Today, I would like to share the wonder of human love, the joy of wonderful people who live near me not on the edge of their existence, but in their open secrets, where their hearts embrace the Absolute of God. Thank you for giving me his risen face and for your heart enamoured of Life and kissed by the Eternal. Thank you for your freedom of explorer that immerses itself in the depths of the Essential. God of the desert that becomes garden, may I always be a small flame lit in the darkness of human endeavour, a heat that spreads where the cold winds of evil destroy and diminish the horizons of Truth and Beauty, that tells the world of the wonderful adventure of risen human love, the love that knows how to die in order to incarnate the smile of God. Amen.