Luke 24: 36 – 48
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
Reflection by Fr Aldo, sx
Just few verses before the Gospel passage of today the Disciples are presented as rejoicing telling one another the big news that Jesus is alive. Therefore it is rather difficult to understand why they are now so disturbed, terrified and afraid, thinking they met a ghost. How to explain this mixture of joy and doubt? How to explain that after the resurrected Jesus eats fish? St. Paul teaches that the resurrected body is not physical, but spiritual (1Cor 15:35-44); in fact Jesus is able to pass even through the locked doors (Jo 20:26). Furthermore, the place where they were gathered was immensely far away from the sea, how could they possibly have fish over there to eat?
These difficulties point to the fact that we have to make an effort to distinguish the message itself from the way and the language used to convey it.
Perhaps the following example can help: Once a young woman received a gift from her boyfriend. Full of emotion she untied the ribbon, tore the wrapping paper, read the card, and pulled out of the box and amazingly beautiful collar of pearls, gold and diamond. She wore the necklace and ran to the mirror and there stayed for a long time contemplating the beauty of the gift. What happened to the ribbon, colorful wrapping paper and the cartoon box? Well, she just threw them away, they fulfilled their mission by once making the gift presentable, but now they do not have any value anymore.
Every Gospel passage contains a message which is a gift from God. The gift is always wrapped with language and literary images common to the people of the time when it was written. But we run the risk of focusing on the wrapping material and forget the gift that it contains, like kids who become enchanted with the color of the paper and throw away the gift. In other words, we miss seeing the treasure of the message if we do not see beyond the imagery of the narrative.
So what is the meaning of the scariness, fear, doubt and the fact that Jesus eats in the presence of the Disciples?
- Let us begin with the scariness and fear. In the Bible every time someone has a strong experience of God, he or she is dominated by fear. We can recall Zechariah and Mary who were afraid when received the news about the birth of their respective babies; so it happened to the Apostles who were taken by fear during the transfiguration. It is certainly not about the fear experienced in the face of danger, but the scariness of someone who receives a revelation from God. Therefore the fear mentioned in Gospel of today is nothing more than a biblical image that refers to the supernatural experience of the disciples; to meet the resurrected Jesus means a profound experience of God.
- Now let us go to the doubts. In order to understand its meaning it is necessary to remember a fact that occurs repeatedly in the gospels: the resurrected Jesus is not easily recognized. All those who see him always have doubts: Mary Magdalene thought he was a gardener; the Emmaus disciples took him for a traveler; the apostles saw in him a ghost; Peter, in Tiberias, imagined he was just a fisherman trying to give him an advice. Thus, doubt is in all apparition accounts. Even for the last time on a mountain of Galilee Matthew says that many doubted (Mt 28:17).
Through all these doubts the evangelists are trying to tell us that it was not simple, fast and easy for the apostles to believe in the resurrection. Faith is something they conquered not before going through a long and arduous journey. Their faith, like ours, does not originate from material proofs. The resurrection is not something that can be demonstrated scientifically because it belongs to a reality that is not of this material world. Faith is not to surrender in the face of evidences, but it is a freely given answer to a call.
- Finally, let us understand Luke’s insistence on the material experience of the resurrected Jesus: the disciples can touch and even eat with him. We have to remember that the evangelist is not narrating facts here, but he is passing on to the readers a theological message. The idea the Luke underlines is that even though Jesus is now different, he is still the same Jesus and he is not another person. The evangelist wants to avoid the danger of leading people to think that the resurrected body is like a ghost that has nothing to do anymore with this life. Therefore Jesus is portrayed as someone who eats and drinks with us, sharing in our joys, hopes, anxieties and sufferings.
The last part of the Gospel contains a great message which is present in all of today’s readings: “Repentance, for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to all the nations.” So, belief in the resurrection of the Lord requires from us a radical change in the conduct with which we think and live.