Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter (Year B) (14 April 2024)

Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter (Year B) (14 April 2024)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

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” (Luke 24:35–48 – NRSV).

Introductory notes


This is the third appearance of the risen Christ in Luke. It takes place in Jerusalem on the same evening following the discovery of the empty tomb, immediately after the return of the two disciples from Emmaus with their report. “Christ appears to the nucleus Christian community, the house-church of his followers, gathered together in bewilderment, astonishment, and incredulity (24:36–43)” (Joseph A Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke X–XXIV: introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 28A), New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008, 1572).

There are two facts presented here: The appearance of Jesus on the road and the way in which they recognized him. This offers a paradigm for all disciples: Jesus walks with us – even when we do not recognize him – and he is revealed in and through the breaking of the bread. (See Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), Chapter 2, “The people of God”, #11. Pope Pius XII had articulated this same teaching in 1947, in Mediator Dei, #201. See also Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1324.) This teaching must be held in tension with the Church’s teaching concerning the Word of God. For example, in the Second Vatican Council’s document on Sacred Scripture, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), Chapter VI, “Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church”: “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons and daughters, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently, these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: ‘For the word of God is living and active’ (Heb. 4:12) and ‘it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified’ (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).” (#21)

In fact, Word and Sacrament are both evident in this passage from Luke. Jesus proclaims the Good News to both the two on the road and the gathering of disciples – who are listening to the two proclaim that Word. In the midst of this proclamation of the Word, Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread.


The breaking of the bread: This is the first such reference in Luke. We find it again however in Acts: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (2:42). Joseph Fitzmyer notes: “True, it is not always said that the bread was distributed, but we are clearly confronted here with an abstract way of referring to the Eucharist, which was current in Luke’s time” (Joseph A Fitzmyer, op cit, 1569). Fitzmyer then goes on to point out the link between the sacramental celebration and the proclamation of the Word: “What is above all important is that the disciples report that they knew him ‘in the breaking of the bread’ (v. 35) and not by seeing him” (Ibid). The “recognition” is not complete, however, until v. 52 – the second last verse in the Gospel – when they “worshiped” him. In the light of this verse, the very last verse of Luke’s Gospel makes eminent sense: “they were continually in the temple blessing God” (v. 53).

Jesus stood among them: The same word is used here – estē, from the verb histēmi meaning “stand” or “stand there” – as John uses in 20:19. Both Luke and John have the greeting of peace and the showing of wounds, though in John it is hands and side, in Luke it is hands and feet. There is something very definite even gently confronting about the statement, followed by the peace greeting, then the showing of the wounds. It may be taken as a proclamation in the face of their –understandable – reluctance to believe what they were experiencing.

They were startled and terrified: The English word, “startled” translates the Greek verb ptoeō. It has been used in Luke 21:9 to describe the terror caused by war. The same word is used in the Septuagint to describe the response of the people to the theophany on Mt Sinai in Exodus 19:16. The English word, “terrified” translates the Greek word emphobos – the word already used by Luke to describe the reaction of the women at the empty tomb in 24:5. Mark also uses this word of the women at the empty tomb in Mark 16:8 – “they were afraid”.

why are you frightened: “The only other time in the Gospel that Luke uses the verb tarassō …. is to describe Zechariah’s response to the angel Gabriel’s appearance; see also Acts 15:24; 17:8, 13” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991, 401).

Touch me and see: See also the incident of Thomas demanding to touch the wounds of Jesus – see John 20:19-31.

see that it is I myself: “The ‘withdrawal’ of Jesus is not so much an absence as it is a presence in a new and more powerful mode: when Jesus is not among them as another specific body, he is accessible to all as life-giving Spirit” (Luke Timothy Johnson, op cit, 406).

you are witnesses: The Greek word translated “witnesses” is martys. This is the root of our English word, “martyr”.

Believing is seeing

In today’s Gospel – Luke 24:35-48 – we have one of Luke’s three accounts of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. The two disciples had just returned from Emmaus. They were recounting “what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread”. Jesus mysteriously appeared in their midst and proclaimed, “Peace be with you.” Rather than pleased and delighted to see him, however, they “were startled and terrified”. They “thought that they were seeing a ghost”. Jesus said to them: “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see”. The problem was that they could not really see! Jesus tells them: Look again and see!

We are told that it had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (2:26). When Mary and Joseph brought their child into the temple, Simeon instantly recognized the Messiah: “My eyes have seen your salvation” (2:30). John the Baptist had prophesied that “‘all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (3:2-6). Midway through the Gospel, we hear Jesus telling the disciples: “‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it’” (10:23-24).

For Luke – somewhat like John – seeing is a metaphor for believing. When you believe, you will really see. The true believer begins to see themselves, other people and things as they really are. The believer begins to see the world as Jesus sees the world. Note the Zen-like response, therefore, to the Pharisees who ask when the kingdom of God is coming: “‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you’” (17:20-21).

There is wisdom in the observation by the Japanese artist, Sōetsu Yanagi: “He who only knows without seeing, does not understand the mystery” (The Unknown Craftsman – A Japanese Insight into Beauty, adapted by Bernard Leach, Tokyo: Kodansh International Ltd, 1972, 110). St Thomas Aquinas stopped writing his Summa Theologica, saying: “All that I have written seems to me nothing but straw . . . compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me” (Cited in Josef Pieper, The Silence of St Thomas, trans-lated by John Murray SJ and Daniel O’Connor, Chicago, ILL: Henry Regnery Co, 1965, 41).

God’s promise to Moses on Sinai is being fulfilled in the Risen Lord: “I am with you … (as) who I AM” (see Exodus 3:1-12). Jesus is not just a fond memory. Nor is he a “ghost”. Belief enables us to see and say “Yes!” to the I AM present among us.