The similarities between the four evangelists when recounting the the resurrection encounters can make it hard to keep the stories straight. Next Sunday’s passage of Luke (Luke 24:36b–48) bears echoes of the pair of encounters in John, first without Thomas and then with him.
Once I get my bearings, I note four things, all important to my living of the faith.
First is the ending: much like in Matthew 28 and Acts 1, the risen Christ commissions his followers as witnesses. I take this as good news, since a “witness” is never called upon to do anything but tell honestly what he or she has seen and known. That’s much more manageable than being in charge of Christ’s own work and mission.
Second, to my enormous comfort, the disciples don’t actually get it. They were startled, terrified, had doubts, disbelieved, and mistook their beloved Jesus for a ghost. Oh yes, they also felt a bit of joy in verse 41. I go through most of life a bit baffled as to what God is up to, so I’m glad to know this has important precedent — even apostolic authority.
Third, Jesus went well out of his way to comfort and reassure them. He started with the message familiar from so many startling angelic visitations: “Peace be with you!” When that wasn’t quite sufficient, Jesus let them see his wounds and touch him. And when they still weren’t convinced, Jesus had them give him a snack, all so they would know he was real.
The fourth thing, I am convinced, is the most significant: Jesus did a miracle. It is easy to miss it, but it is a very big deal. It is in verse 45:
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.
It is easier to notice that he spent some time teaching them, showing how the Old Testament pointed out that the Messiah was to the suffer and then rise from death—which is to be their message as witnesses.
The miracle was that he enabled them to understand this teaching.
This is the last, resurrection appearance in Luke. The miracle answers the big problem building up through those appearances.
- At the tomb, the myrrh-bearing women did not see Jesus himself. The angels benevolently roll their eyes when the women don’t remember that Jesus said he must die and rise.
- The male disciples didn’t get it either, deciding the women were speaking nonsense.
- Then on the road to Emmaus, two disciples were bummed out about Jesus’ death and baffled by the women’s testimony. Jesus himself is there, but they don’t recognize him, even as he teaches them of the biblical testimony to his life and work.
Lest we look down on them, though, Luke tells us that they were “kept from recognizing” Jesus (v. 14). It was only when “their eyes were opened” (v. 31) that they knew who he was.
So it seems to me that in 34-48 Luke shows Jesus doing what was needed for the whole band of followers to understand the very gospel itself — Jesus really is the anointed one who (very biblically) suffered and rose for our salvation.
This is the essential miracle of faith.
I wonder if I need this miracle again today?
I wonder if there are places where my mind is closed, my heart hardened, my eyes kept from recognizing Jesus?
I wonder if I should pray for this same miracle for those around me who seem to struggle to believe, or who lack faith faith entirely?
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