April 18th 2021. Third Sunday of Easter
GOSPEL Luke 24: 35-48
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading . . .
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GOSPEL Luke 24:35-48
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them
in the breaking of bread.
While they were still speaking about this,
he stood in their midst and said to them,
"Peace be with you."
But they were startled and terrified
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Then he said to them, "Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have."
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, "Have you anything here to eat?"
They gave him a piece of baked fish;
he took it and ate it in front of them.
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
and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled."
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And he said to them,
"Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things."
THE GOSPEL OF THE LORD: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
SHORTER HOMILY . . . While the two disciples who have returned from Emmaus are describing their encounter with Christ, Jesus appears in their midst once again. This tells us that the proper place for the encounter with Jesus is in the Church assembly, in the relations between the Christian community. Even St Paul required another member of the Christian community for his eyes to be opened. The Gospel passage tells us that the disciples were afraid because they thought they were seeing a ghost. But the resurrection is not being liberated from a mortal body, it is the rendering immortal of that same body! The life of the resurrection involves the transfiguration of suffering, not its simple elimination. In fact, Jesus eats with the disciples to show that the resurrection is not just a mental thing but concerns the entire person, spirit and body. Jesus saves us completely, not just in part. In the first reading, St Peter proclaims to the Jews that they have crucified the Saviour through ignorance. They did not know where they were doing. The biblical concept of “knowledge” refers to a complete and personal experience. The Gospel then speaks of Christ “opening their minds” to understand Scripture. St Jerome once said that he who ignores Scripture ignores Christ. It is essential that we turn more and more to the fountain of Scripture in order to know Christ. But the contrary is also true. He does not know Christ does not know Scripture because only the lived encounter with Christ can open our minds and intelligence to comprehend the sense of the Bible. Christ is saving us, and this salvation illuminates the entire history of salvation recounted in Scripture. Without the light of the resurrection of Christ, our understanding of the history of the patriarchs, the sacrifice of Isaac, the story of Joseph, the exodus, etc., is insufficient. It is the operation of Christ in us that brings this illumination. To be converted in the original Greek means to go beyond one’s customary way of thinking. We are being offered this possibility of entering into the life of Christ, to receive the promises that were made in the Old Testament. Israel had these promises to hand but did not understand them. Salvation involves looking completely anew, with the aid of Christ, at the reality that we already possess. We need to remain with the Christian community in order to receive these Scriptures that illuminate Christ. Equally, we need to receive Christ so that the scriptures will be illuminated, transfiguring our lives. Sometimes we think that by our own efforts we can take on Christ. But what we really need to do is be faithful to the liturgy, accepting that we are ignorant and insufficient by ourselves, that we understand poorly on our own efforts. We must relativize our own knowledge and open ourselves to the power of God who will show us his life and his salvation.
LONGER HOMILY FOLLOWS
Jesus prepared the chosen people over centuries for his resurrection. In our personal lives too, God has prepared us in various ways to deepen our encounter with the risen Lord
In this third Sunday of Easter we hear the proclamation that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has glorified his servant Jesus. Why is this affirmation so important? We find it in the third chapter of the Acts of the Apostle, one of the first announcements by Peter following the resurrection of Jesus. The point is that Jesus does not appear out of nowhere: he is the fulfilment of ancient promises. In the Gospel he tells the disciples: "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 and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled." This is a precise description of the three parts of the Old Testament: the law, the prophets and the wisdom literature (represented by the psalms). The Lord Jesus prepared the world for his coming. His resurrection is the fulfilment of the history of his people. But in our personal stories also there are promises that the Lord brings to completion. There are things that prepare us for our encounter with him. In cases where people are converted to the Lord, one discovers afterwards that these conversions were prepared for over a long period.
Christianity proclaims a life after death, but this afterlife is not some kind of spiritual or ethereal existence. It involves the resurrection of the body, a notion that is difficult to comprehend, but firmly rooted in our faith
There is another important feature of this text. That which we proclaim in this joyful time of Easter is what is perhaps most obvious – the resurrection! This is not just about life after death. Other religions too speak of life after death. Christianity goes beyond vague references to the next life with its eleventh article of the creed which affirms belief in the resurrection of the body. We believe in a resurrection that is not some form of abstract or ethereal existence. But it is not easy to explain what is meant by the resurrection of the body. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul provides the analogy of the seed with the plant that eventually comes into existence from the seed. The plant is very different to the seed, but is nevertheless inextricably bound to the seed. In the same way, we will plant one kind of body and rise again with a different, spiritual, body, but the two bodies are nevertheless intimately linked. This mystery cannot be penetrated by rationalistic methods, but its basis in Scripture is clear. In the Gospel, the disciples think that Jesus is a ghost. The original Greek text refers to him as a “spirit”. Jesus says to them: "Why are you troubled? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost [a “spirit”] does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." Jesus eats with them to demonstrate that he can engage in acts that imply corporeality. It is hard for us to comprehend the meaning of this: how can the risen Lord eat the things of this world? Nevertheless, the Church has seen in these appearances of the risen Christ a truth about the resurrection of the body that it is compelled to proclaim. The great fathers of the Church have been clear on this issue. St Irenaeus of Lyon, a martyr, had an essential motto: “Caro cardo salutis”. This means that the flesh is the pivot of salvation.
Christianity is not opposed to the flesh, but the contrary. It is in the flesh that we are redeemed. It is with our bodies that we are called to love others through concrete actions and service
Are we inclined to think that Christianity is against the flesh? The opposite is the case! The flesh is the place where we are saved. Without the flesh we cannot be saved. The business of redemption is not just mental comprehension. It involves acts and the globality of the person, our muscles and our bones, the things that make us who we are. When spirit and body are separated, we are dead, we are no longer complete! Completeness requires the unity of the human person. The first letter of St John emphasizes this point a lot and condemns those who deny that Christ has come in the flesh. The first heretical movements in the Church were the Gnostics, and they are still with us today. The attempt is to turn Christianity into a theory, a system of abstract values, a philosophy, a specialised form of knowledge. But authentic Christianity is nothing of the sort. The love of a man for a woman involves his body, his actions, his service. It is not a concept and not even a sentiment. In fact, it only becomes a genuine sentiment when it involves corporeal action. If our bodies do not manifest our faith, then our faith is worth nothing. St James says this in his letter, “I will show you my faith by my works”. How else can we demonstrate our faith if not in terms of concrete acts? If I truly encounter God, then this will illuminate every aspect of my person and life. The way I eat and sleep will be redeemed. The way I walk, work, welcome a child; the way I live things concretely, wash the dishes, the way I serve you. How can I love if not with the body? Love is not an abstract, idealised thing. Life is not an abstract thing. The Lord Jesus rises in his flesh because our flesh is destined for the fullness of life of the children of God