St. Luke was a Gentile convert to Christianity. Gentiles were only invited to join the community years after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension. So this means that St. Luke was not an eyewitness, a point that he makes in his introductory statement. As he begins his Gospel, he lays out his purpose for his friend, Theophilus: “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”
Today’s passage from the Gospel of St. Luke comes from the last chapter. He has finished his narrative and recorded the events which others had told him about. When he comes to the last chapter, he feels the need to relate how the disciples came to understand the events that occurred at the end of Jesus’ life. This is the genesis of the Emmaus story in which he portrays two disciples returning to their homes feeling dejected and defeated. They had pinned their hopes on Jesus. Then he was crucified. As if that were not enough, now some people were saying that he had risen from the dead. It was too much for them. On their way home, they met a stranger who explained it all to them by interpreting their Scriptures and by sharing a meal with them. Their eyes were opened and they realized that they were going in the wrong direction. They shouldn’t be going home. So they ran to Jerusalem to tell the others that they had a new understanding of Jesus gained through their encounter with him. When they got to Jerusalem, as the story opens today, Jesus appears to the assembled disciples and explains it all again. Jesus’ death was not the end of the story. It was just the beginning. This was all part of God’s plan.
This story has been told over and over again. However, we still need to hear the explanation. The cross of Calvary was part of God’s plan to save us. A humiliating death became a vindicating victory three days later when Jesus rose from the dead. This was not a matter of resuscitation such as we heard of in the story of Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus and the son of the widow of Nain. When Jesus rose from the dead, he was different. He seemed to walk through walls. He appeared suddenly and just as suddenly disappeared. His hands and his feet bore the wounds of crucifixion, but rather than being physical reminders of his execution, they were now badges of honor.
In order to be able to understand this story of Jesus, in order to actually encounter Jesus ourselves, we need docile hearts ready to embrace the Scriptures and the Eucharist. For just as the first disciples came to understand by reflecting on the Scriptures and by sharing the broken bread, we will come to recognize Jesus. Going to Mass on Sunday is not simply a requirement of the Law. It is our way to encounter Jesus, to walk with him through the mystery of his passion, death and resurrection. We don’t attend Mass because it is required of us. We attend Mass because this is what Catholic Christians do. It is our way to make sense of the story, a story that can only be understood by a person of faith.
Having recognized Jesus, we, like the people who were listening to Peter in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, must live reformed lives. Having recognized Jesus, we, like the people addressed by John in the reading from his First Letter, must be obedient to his commandment of love. Having recognized Jesus, we, like the disciples portrayed in the Gospel, must preach the good news of God’s forgiveness to all nations. We must do this; we cannot simply sit back and go on as if nothing has happened. To fail means that our faith is dead, that we are only mouthing the words of those Baptismal promises that we renewed three weeks ago. Easter faith assures us that this is all possible. God has looked favorably upon us. The Easter mystery now unfolds in our midst. The mystery has been entrusted to us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator