Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
While they were talking about this, 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. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:35-49)
You will find similar accounts of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in John 20:19–23; Acts 1:3–5; 1 Corinthians 15:5.
At the beginning of his Gospel, Luke explains his purpose to Theophilus: ” …. so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:4). The word for “truth” used here is asphaleia (ἀσφάλεια). “It does not mean ‘truth’ as opposed to ‘falsehood’, as though Luke’s predecessors had their facts wrong. Asphaleia refers rather to a mental state of certainty or security …. Luke’s narrative is intended to have a ‘convincing’ quality.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Liturgical Press, 1991, 28.)
Luke wants Theophilus – and all who read this Gospel – to recognize the truth of Jesus as the Anointed of God. The two who had met Jesus on the way to Emmaus are able to bear witness to the fact that they “recognized him in the breaking of the bread”. This sets the scene for further recognition by other disciples.
For notes on the greeting (“Peace be with you!”) and the reference to the wounds of Jesus, see the reflection on last week’s Gospel – John 20:19-31. It seems that the heresy of Docetism – the belief that Jesus only appeared to be human but was not fully present in the flesh – was already making itself felt from the beginning. One theologian writes: “The earliest christological heresy of which we have any evidence was docetism which so emphasized the divinity of Jesus that it reduced his humanity to mere appearance or fantasy.” (T. E. Pollard, Johannine Christology and the Early Church, Cambridge University Press, 1970, 19). Pollard then adds a quotation from St Jerome in a footnote: “While the Apostles yet remained upon the earth, while the blood of Jesus was almost smoking upon the soil of Judaea, some asserted that the body of the Lord was a phantom.” This may explain the physicality of Jesus’ presence emphasized in Luke’s text, contrasting the actual appearance and presence of Jesus with a “ghost”. This is not a ghost!
For notes on the initial reaction to the empty tomb by the women, see reflection on Mark 16:1-8. The experience of terror and fear suggests the conversion the first disciples had to go through, from thinking of Jesus as someone who would restore the Kingdom of David, to recognizing that he is the Suffering Servant, crucified and risen. This was definitely not the kind of Messiah they were expecting!
Jesus words, “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” echo the words of the Angel Gabriel at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). Luke then begins the Book of Acts: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now'” (Acts 1:1-5).
The first disciples are not convinced of the truth of Jesus by rational argument. As John Henry Newman noted, the recognition of the truth of Jesus does not come at the end of a syllogism.The disciples are convinced by experience. In their experience they recognize the truth of Jesus – he has died, he has risen and he will be with us until the end of time.
The truth here cannot be proved. Nor cannot it be empirically verified. So what do we depend on when we proclaim this inexplicable truth? We depend on “power from on high” – the Holy Spirit in other words.
We must bear witness to the mystery of God’s love revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps we could phrase that more truthfully by saying we must live so that the mystery of God’s love revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is also revealed in us and through us. The proclamation is firstly a matter of being. We could sum it up this way: As you are being loved into freedom, be in the world in such a way that God can love others into freedom through you.
We must never replace the message with ourselves. Bearing witness is largely a matter of disappearing while we remain fully present.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain” (Psalm 127:1).