Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Let's set the scene: the Eleven are huddled together with some of the other disciples discussing Peter's encounter with the Risen Christ. In the middle of this excited discussion in walks the two disciples who had been on the way to Emmaus. They tell their astonishing story of meeting Christ on the road and how he revealed himself in the breaking of bread. So, we have a large group of people who knew Jesus, loved him, followed him all over the country, and were very much aware of what happened to him in Jerusalem. They knew of his death and that his tomb had been found empty. The reported sightings of Jesus after his death were not only exciting but terrifying as well. Could he really still be alive? And what if he were still alive? What do we do? Search for him? If he's still alive, the temple guards and Roman soldiers will be looking for him. Do we wait around 'til he shows? If the authorities find us with him, we'll be executed as rebels! Their excitement is poisoned by terror. Their love for Christ is tainted by confusion. Do they embrace excitement and love? Or terror and confusion? They believe but they are disbelieving. Why are they (we) troubled?
The disciples are in a panic. At the peak of their confusion, Jesus appears in their midst and says, “Peace be with you. . .Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?” The disciples are “startled and terrified.” That's one way to put it. No doubt there is some screaming, some fainting, a few explosive cusses, maybe even a run the door! There they are, discussing Jesus appearances after his death. . .and he just shows up! The disciples believe they are seeing a ghost. Jesus offers no mystical explanations; no theological or philosophical argument for how and why he's there; instead, he casually tells them to examine him, “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see. . .” John reports that the disciples were “incredulous for joy and were amazed.” Incredulous for joy. Disbelieving in their delight. Skeptical in their happiness to see and touch their Lord. They are amazed, astonished, surprised, a little shocked. Jesus does nothing to calm their surprise but he does offer them a remedy for their disbelief. He eats a piece of fish to show them that he is no ghost, to show them that he is indeed with them—body and soul.
Why are the disciples troubled? They are criminals among their own people, running and hiding from the law. They are known to be followers of a heretic and rebel. Their Master has been convicted of sedition and blasphemy, tortured, and executed. The authorities know that his body is not in its tomb, and they've broadcast a story implicating his followers in stealing it. They sat at Jesus' feet for three years, listening to him teach, and they've heard him say that he intends to destroy the temple and raise it again in three days. Though they said that they believed he was the Messiah, events have unsettled this belief, leaving them with profound doubts and deep regrets. They are troubled b/c they have staked their lives and reputations on the word of an executed criminal who's dead body has disappeared from its grave. Yeah, they're troubled alright! And just to add to their trouble, this executed criminal starts appearing to them off and on. What are they supposed to believe? What are they supposed to do with all this trouble? If they go public, they end up on a cross. If they keep quiet, they risk disobeying the Christ and betraying him once again. In the midst of all this turmoil and spiritual violence, does the Master offer them any comfort at all? He does. Peace be with you. You are witnesses.
After the disciples see and touch his risen body, Jesus says to them, “. . .everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled. . .These [were] my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you.” In other words, the disciples shouldn't be shocked at seeing and touching his risen body. Why? B/c he told them that he would die and rise again. Everything that has happened to him since they first met him was predicted and explained in the scriptures. They are surprised, disbelieving b/c they did not understand his teaching. Now that they have seen and touched him, “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” To understand the Scriptures—what we call the Old Testament—is to understand Christ. Jesus says to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.” In Acts, we read, “God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer. . .God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.” What the prophets foretold, the disciples witness. The Christ would suffer and die. He did. The Christ would be raised from his tomb. He was. Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise to send His people a Savior. We are witnesses.
So, why are we troubled? We are troubled b/c—like the disciples—we believe and at the same time we are disbelieving! What's the difference between belief and believing? Belief is rigid, static, unmoving. Belief is saying Yes to a statement, “Yes, I believe that the Lord rose from the dead.” Belief can be captured in a word or a gesture. It can be automatic, easy, cheap. Anyone can assent to a belief and move on. Believing is something else entirely. Seeing and touching the truth of Christ goes beyond just reading about it or discussing it or being worried about it. Believing is what happens when we combine belief with witness. Believing is what happens when we do more than say Yes to a statement; it's what happens when that statement of belief becomes an act, a behavior, a habit. “Yes, I believe that the Lord rose from the dead. . .and here's why I believe it and how his resurrection has radically changed my life!” Believing is what happens when we embody Christ himself, become the living Word day-to-day; when we not only speak the truth and live it but also when we become essentially identified with it—unshakably attached to Christ that to separate ourselves from him is to die lost and alone. If we are troubled, it is b/c we believe Christ but we are not believing; we assent to his teachings out of convenience or old habits or b/c everyone else does but we do not live and breath as believing witnesses.
Luke reminds his brothers and sister that they are witnesses to Christ's fulfillment of the prophets. They were there to see and hear and touch the Christ as he gave flesh and bone to the ancient words of God's prophets. We weren't there. Our witness as believing men and women is different. We live with the Holy Spirit of God burning within us and among us, consuming the fuel of our lives and spreading the good news of the Father's mercy everywhere we go. Our witness to Christ is laid bare in how we think, act, speak; how we move among family and friends; how we treat those who have sinned against us. We are vowed to both believe and to be believing. To both assenting to the truth and to giving that truth our hearts, minds, and bodies. The Lord is risen! And he is risen in each of us. Peace be with you. Touch and see the Lord among us and do not be troubled. The Lord is risen indeed!
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