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Bind them as a sign on your hand (Deut 6:8)

Next Sunday’s Gospel

The Gospel readings are often identical in the
Revised Common Lectionary

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Luke 24:35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. Luke 24:36   While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have 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 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, 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 in their presence.

Luke 24:44   Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

Initial Observations

This is the last scene in Luke’s Gospel and therefore a very important moment for presenting one more time the themes at the heart of Luke’s proclamation. It may be worth repeating again that the “resurrection appearance narratives” are special to each Gospel, reflecting the theology of the writer and the concerns at the time of writing. The first sentence is the end of the Emmaus story and makes an important link with this narrative. The appointed selection ends at v.48, but, to give the full context, the rest of the conclusion is offered as well.


Old Testament background

In the Old Testament, the book of Deuteronomy represents the “last will and testament” of Moses. It explores the importance of the figure and offers a synthesis of teaching and a looking forward to the tasks of “the bereaved” after the departure of Moses.

The references within the text to the teaching of the OT take us to several passages which Luke here reminds us of.

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. (Deuteronomy 18:15)

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. (Isaiah 61:1-2)

In the Acts of the Apostles—the second volume—Luke will make great use of the Psalms to show the continuity between the religion of Israel and the proclamation of Jesus as messiah.

This symbolic narrative functions as an exploration of Easter faith — how we come to it and how we hold on to it. It is reassuring that the Resurrection Appearance Narratives so often feature doubt. It is natural and reassures us that the first believers did not dream it all up. Then you have the sovereign self-presentation of the Risen Lord. This cannot be arranged or generated in any way: it is the gift of Jesus. Luke underscores that Jesus is both the crucified one and the risen one. Either affirmation on its own would be deficient. Finally, because the God of the covenant was consistently at work through Moses and the prophets, the continuity with the earlier dispensation is also underlined.


Kind of writing

From a technical point of view, this is a peroratio, that is, a conclusion. The functions of the conclusion were named at the time as three: to sum up, to amplify and to engage the emotions. The summing up is clear: Jesus the prophetic messiah, who started his ministry in Luke 4:16ff and died as a martyr prophet like Stephen, is presented again in the light of the Old Testament. The amplification is focused on the experience the disciples have of the Risen Lord. In the previous story, his presence is highly elusive and in this story, very natural questions of the reality of his risen state are addressed. Finally, if you look back over the text, many words of emotion are to be found: peace, startled, terrified, doubt, joy, repentance, forgiveness. Furthermore, the disciples are now engaged as witnesses to what they have experienced.


New Testament Foreground

To feel again the force of this scene, the reader would do well to go back to two key stories in this Gospel: the proclamation at Nazareth (4:16-30) and the road to Emmaus (24:13-35). In some ways, this story brings into the present of the hearer the earlier “closed” experiences of the first generation. It functions in a way similar to that importance sentence in John 20: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29)


St Paul

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1Corinthians 15:42-49)


Brief Commentary

Verse 35 The verse serves to connect the two stories.

Verse 36
The risen Lord can “present” himself in a sovereign way. Peace here has the full meaning of resurrection shalom, freedom from death and the fear of death.

Verse 37
Doubt / non-recognition is a reassuring feature of the appearance narratives.

Verse 38
This is repeated for emphasis and to open up the teaching of Jesus.

Verse 39
This reminds us of the Thomas story in John 20. The task is the same: to teach that the Risen Lord has not left behind his passage through death, but precisely because he is still himself, “bearing the marks of one slain”, he can help us. Cf. Rev 5:6.

Verse 40
The risen one is the crucified and the crucified is the risen one.

Verse 41
Joy is a large theme in Luke; the combination of joy and disbelief is startling but quite realistic.

Verse 42
This again reminds us of John 21 — the Lukan account may be a reception of John 21.

Verse 43
This rather physical account of the risen body is probably offered to counter tendencies, present even in earliest Christianity, not to take the incarnation seriously after and even before the resurrection. The early heresy of docetism held that Jesus merely seemed (dokeĊ) to be human. The physical eating is a symbolic rebuttal of any such tendencies. 1 Cor 15 remains a significant elucidation on the nature of the risen body.

Verse 44
See Luke 4 and Luke 24 above for the references.

Verse 45
This verse reflects the early Christian experience that the Bible of the day (our Old Testament) could be understood only in the light of resurrection faith. The story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 illustrates the task well.

Verse 46
This is a difficult text. Not only is the messiah as future deliverer not mentioned in the OT but also the suffering and rising could hardly be said to be clearly present. The texts in mind are most likely the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah 40-55, which proved such an important source for understanding the contradiction of the cross.

Verse 47
Repentance and forgiveness are already present at the cross: Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. (Luke 23:48-49)
Jerusalem remains for Luke the locus of salvation history, which spreads out across the Acts from the holy city to the eternal city.

Verse 48
Witness turns out to be a key activity also in the Acts. There are no “free” resurrection appearances: the experience of the Risen Lord always includes a mission and a task.


Pointers for prayer

1. When we are not expecting it to happen, even a good event can startle us. So it was with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them. He sought to calm them and helped them to see the good news behind what had initially alarmed them. Who has been a Jesus person for you by helping you to find meaning and good news in life?

2.
Jesus helped the disciples to find new hope, but he did not give them easy answers. He asked them to see the facts before their eyes. He wanted them to learn from the experience they were having. As a parent, teacher, friend or guide, have you been a Jesus person to another, helping him/her to find hope and purpose in life by learning from his/her experiences? Who has done this for you?

3.
The disciples had a resurrection experience. Unexpected possibilities for the future surfaced when it seemed that hope had gone. What have been your resurrection experiences; recovery of health when it did not seem possible, new opportunities after failure or disappointment, inner healing after a deep hurt, etc?

4.
It took the disciples some time to grasp the meaning of what was happening. It can take us time to learn the deeper lessons of life. Reflect on an example of some lesson about life that you have learned slowly over time?


Prayer

God of all the prophets, you fulfilled your promise of old that your Christ would suffer and so rise to glory.

Open our minds to understand the Scriptures and fill us with joyful wonder in the presence of the Risen Christ, that we may be his witnesses to the farthest ends of the earth. Amen.


Thought for the day and prayer

For the word of God to become a living word, we need to listen beyond the words to the one speaking to us through Scripture. It is our faith that God speaks to us as we listen to “the very voice of the pilgrim people God.” This does not happen of its own accord; it calls for a listening ear and an open heart.

Prayer

Merciful God, anoint me with you Holy Spirit. As I read your Word, let me hear your voice speaking to me from within. Give me the wisdom to understand your message to me. Let your Word be the joy of my heart and the light to my feet. Give me strength to build my life on your Word. Let it be done to me according to your Word. May I rejoice in the blessedness of hearing your Word and keeping it. Speak Lord; your servant is listening.