While the disciples were telling how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 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.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
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.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 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, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Luke 24:36b-48.
Today, we encounter the Risen Christ in the Gospel of St. Luke. This passage follows directly after the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. As is true of so many stories of encounters with Jesus after the resurrection, the disciples do not appear to recognize Jesus immediately, and “thought they were seeing a ghost”. In the Emmaus story, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Luke 24:16.
We’re left with the impression that there was something about the resurrected Jesus which was contiguous, and yet discontiguous with the man they knew. While they struggled with the apparent discontinuity, at times this resurrected Jesus seemed quite familiar. The resurrected Lord could be apprehended, but always escaped both recognition and understanding. And yet, He bore the marks of his entry into human history; the scars bearing witness to His torture were unmistakable.
Just as the wounded Christ still bears the marks of human history, for the disciples, the trauma of the cross still remained brutally fresh. He bore the marks of death, but had vacated the tomb. The resurrected Jesus proved that death itself was nothing but an empty shell which could not separate us from the Source of Life.
Jesus offered to the disciples exactly what he offers to us today. He told them, “Peace be with you.” He offered them the peace that comes with knowing their friend still lived, and this wasn’t some ghost. He showed them that He was “flesh and bone” and he ate some fish with them. And lots of folks correctly point out that Jesus did this to assure them that he wasn’t simply a spiritual apparition, that He was real. While that’s certainly true, I think it misses a big part of the story and the import of that broiled fish.
We remember that in the 22nd chapter of Luke, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, asking that we celebrate the Eucharist in His memory. He told the disciples that he would neither eat nor “drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Luke 22:18. Thus, when Jesus dines with his disciples on the road to Emmaus and in this passage, He announces the arrival of God’s kingdom. He calls the disciples as witnesses, not only to His bodily resurrection, but also to the inauguration of the kingdom He spoke about so often while He walked among them. In the language of an everyday meal, He told them the reign of God had begun, and invited them to share in it. Thus, he directs them to share the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sins to everyone.
Of course, one passage from this reading resonates particularly with me. Having lived through the bone-chilling barbarity of the crucifixion, the confusion of confronting their resurrected rabbi, Jesus offers a simple prayer for his disciples: “Peace be with you.” The disciples surely felt a miasma of emotions: terror, shame, failure, regret and doubt. Although escaping comprehension, Jesus offered them a bit of sanctuary within that simple shalom.
Luke describes the disciples thus: “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering….” I think that description applies to many of us who have had a variety of encounters with Christ, and still wonder. Even the very faithful are sometimes very fearful. And yet, Jesus calls such people (people like you and me) to be His witnesses. I hope and pray that as we touch Him and see, that same peace Jesus offered to His followers arises within each of us.
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis