This is the third Sunday of Easter, and the Gospel is always a resurrection appearance of Jesus. The author shows that Jesus was neither a Ghost nor a Zombie and that this is important for how we live as Christians. We need to hear this just as much as the original audience.
This year St Luke continues the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. This is Easter day. Mary Magdelene and other women went to the tomb and found it empty. Two angels told them that he was raised. They told the disciples in the upper room, Peter investigated and returned dazed and confused. Two disciples left Jerusalem for a small-town named Emmaus and Jesus joined them, but they did not know that it was him. The roads were dangerous, and the disciples assumed that this stranger wanted to join them for safety. They discussed Jesus, his death, and the mysterious disappearance of his body. Jesus explains these events from the perspective of scripture, their hearts burned within them, and they invited Jesus to eat with them. At it he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, they recognized him, and he disappeared.
Thus far his risen body is human enough that no one comments on it but different enough from the one that the disciples were used to that they did not recognize him. He was also able to appear and disappear at will. Obviously, Jesus was not simply resuscitated.
The disciples return to Jerusalem and report to the Peter and the apostles in the upper room. Jesus appears in a form that they recognize. They think that he might be a ghost, but he tells them to touch him to see that he was real. He shows them his hands and his feet to prove it was the same person. Then he eats with them. This is of course the clearest proof that whatever a risen body is it is real and not a mere spirit. It is the same body that died on the cross.
Jesus is a Jew, and we must recognize this to understand what he does and why he does it. Especially for St Luke we must read the scriptures beginning with the OT: the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms. In them disciples will find the basic concept that Jesus self-consciously offered himself as a sacrifice. A sacrifice required a real body that really dies. That he rose from the dead proved that God accepted his sacrifice. Sacrifice creates a covenant, a relationship with God. If he were a ghost or a resuscitated body, there would be no sacrifice and thus no new relationship with God. He shows them as well that this relationship would forgive sin and if they were to be true apostles, which means one who is sent, they must preach this to the world.
Luke is a very accomplished author and adds another dimension. They are eating fish. He had bread with the disciples on the way to Emmaus. This calls to mind the feeding of the 5 thousand when Jesus miraculously multiplied bread and fish. Yet note that with the disciples it is Jesus who took the bread, blessed, broke, and distributed. Here it is the apostles who are the hosts and celebrate the Eucharist as Jesus ordered them at the last supper when after he offered the bread told them to do this in memory of me.
Luke knows the importance of this connection. A ghost or a zombie cannot be a sacrifice. A living and real body must die for it to be real. But he knows as well that for it to be meaningful to us we must be able to participate in it. Thus, he turned what would have under other circumstances a regular meal with disciples into a sacrifice as real as the one in the temple.
Luke expects his community to know his own writings as well as the OT. Jesus sends his followers to preach to all nations in a way that recalls the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry when Jesus preached in his home synagogue at Nazarah from the words of Isaih.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, (Lk 4:18)
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus and the apostles in the upper room they were on fire with Jesus’ words and trilled when he said that they were now fulfilled in him. Yet when he indicated that this was for all people not just Jews
They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. (Lk 4:29)
The disciples are now witnesses of this and having been freed by the cross must free the world. But does the world know or want true freedom, the freedom from sin,
Some people hold that sin is purely an individual action. Freedom from sin means that these individual transgressions are removed. Others believe that sin is structural and that our individual acts merely reflect these wider realities. Catholic thought is marked by both/and. We both sin individually and often but not always through our connection with sinful structures and institutions. When we are freed from our individual sins, we can see the world as it is including the social and political ties which bind and oppress us and others. With God given freedom comes the imperative to aid all the oppressed.
The church has wisely made the Acts of the Apostles – Luke part 2 – the first reading both for weekday and Sunday Masses for this season. We will see what happens when the apostles act. Their words were not without effect but sometimes I feel sorry for the Romans. Thery were being freed but freedom is not without its pain.
Our world is different than it was a year ago. In some ways it is as new as the Roman world into which the apostles were sent. We have as great an opportunity to witness to the name of Jesus as Peter and Paul, but we must remember that we are freed from our sins to free others from theirs.