April 15, 2024

Third Sunday of Easter 4/14/24

Abbot Placid Solari

Today’s gospel story continues the account of the two disciples who, on the day of the Lord’s resurrection, had left Jerusalem and were journeying to a town called Damascus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were downcast because of the crucifixion and death of the Lord.

On their way they are joined by a stranger who is actually the risen Christ, although the two do not recognize him as they journey along together. The two disciples share their sadness at the death of Jesus, as well as their puzzlement at the report of the women who that morning had seen a vision of angels that announced that the Lord was alive.

Jesus, still unrecognized by them, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them what refer to him and all the scriptures. Later, as you may recall from the story, as they were taking their evening meal together at an end, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.

With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him. But he vanished from their sight immediately. Even though it was night, the two disciples hastened back to Jerusalem to take this news to the other disciples. And that is where today’s gospel account takes up the story.

There are at least three instructions for which I believe today’s gospel is intended to impart to us, the disciples of Jesus today.

First Instruction: Belief in the Resurrection

The first is to challenge us as to whether we truly believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. As we see in the gospel text, it was difficult for the disciples at that time to believe the report from the women in their company that morning, that Jesus had appeared to them alive.

When these two disciples unexpectedly arrived back from their interrupted journey to Emmaus, before they could say anything of their experience, the disciples excitedly told them, “the Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way, and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Yet in spite of all this, when Jesus suddenly is present in their midst, what’s their reaction? “They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”

We are, I think, very much like these disciples of Jesus’ day, and the Lord can quite easily pose the same questions to us: “Why are you troubled? And why do these questions arise in your hearts?” For questions do arise in our hearts, I think because we are afraid to give our hearts totally and unreservedly to Jesus. To some extent, I suppose this is understandable: if the disciples who themselves saw the risen Lord had such a difficult time accepting his resurrection, we ought not expect that it will be easy for us who have not seen to believe.

We are afraid to let our hearts to burn too intensely within us. We keep part of our heart to ourselves, giving that part over to more easily accessible, albeit far less fulfilling, gratifications, just in case.

We are afraid to fulfill the Great Commission to witness to Jesus Christ as Lord, as Son of God, and Savior of the world lest our friends consider us a bit odd or overzealous. Lest we are excluded from the right company and society. But most of all, perhaps lest we face the necessity of changing our lives to live with integrity what we say we believe. It is indeed very difficult for us to face up to the consequences of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Second Instruction: Reading the Scriptures

A second instruction to us from today’s gospel is the necessity of recourse to the divinely inspired scriptures given to us by God, in order to gain more profound insight into the truths of the mystery of God and the mystery of the revelation of God and ourselves, human beings. Notice that Jesus both directs his disciples to the scriptures, and at the same time opens their minds to understand the scriptures.

How often do we hear Jesus’ instruction to return to the scriptures? After all, to engage with the Bible takes time. It also takes effort and study. And finally, it takes a commitment to live a life guided by the Holy Spirit, who then can open our minds to understanding the teachings of that same Spirit in the scriptures. That is quite a commitment, and so often we’re not sure it’s worth the time to open our minds to the understanding of the scriptures.

We have to accept that the community of Jesus’ disciples, the church, has been given the unfailing guidance of the Holy Spirit both to recognize and to teach the scriptures. However, we know only too well that all members of the church are sinners, even the teachers and ministers, and we can use that as an easy excuse for ourselves.

But where else do we think we can go? After all, Jesus came to be with sinners and to transform us, and he’s promised to remain with us even to the end of the age.

Third Instruction: The Sacred Dignity of the Human Body

Finally, the third instruction, which I think we likewise struggle to grasp, is that Jesus Christ arose from the dead in his human body, the same body which he shares with us. Today’s gospel goes to great pains to make this point:

“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 he asked them, have you anything here to eat? And they gave him a piece of baked fish. He took it and ate it in front of them.”

Again, this is difficult for us to accept. Will we bow our heads in the profession of faith at the phrase, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man,” out of a sense of awe and submission to the great mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God? Or do we do it simply because that’s what everybody else does?

We bow our heads because we believe that the eternal Son of God, the Word through whom all things came to be, united himself inseparably with that part of material creation capable of containing God, that is, with human beings. Because of that, the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, not only raised all of material creation to a new height, but gave to each and every human being from the very instant of that human being’s existence, an inalienable and divine dignity that lasts until eternity, even in the midst of the continuing horrors of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, which we see clearly represented to us in the media daily.

So, in the midst of the agony of the suffering of the innocent in the world, do we take seriously the account that the Lord’s risen body, now ascended and dwelling in the mystery of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, makes ever present in the heart of God the wounds of his own innocent children who suffer?

We struggle mightily to accept the reality of the Lord’s human nature, and to recognize the inestimable dignity of every human being, especially when that person looks different from me, is differently abled or impaired. When that person acts in despicable ways, we resist this truth of their dignity because it means we can no longer use and abuse our own bodies and those of others in any way we wish for our own gratification.

This past Monday, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith at the Holy See published a most important document which I commend to you for your attention and your study. It is entitled Dignitatis Infinita, a phrase taken from Saint John Paul II, which means “infinite dignity,” and it presents clearly the church’s faith in the dignity of each human being and the consequences of that faith based on the scriptures and in Jesus’ incarnation and his resurrection in his human body.

In outlining different expressions of human dignity, the document states that the most important among these is what it calls “ontological dignity,” which belongs to the person as such, simply because he or she exists and is willed, created, and loved by God.

The first conviction drawn from revelation holds that the dignity of the human person comes from the love of the creator, who has imprinted the indelible features of his image on every person, not only to the soul, but also to the person as an inseparable unity of body and soul. Accordingly, dignity is also inherent in each person’s body, which participates in its own way in being the image of God, and is also called to share the soul’s glory and the divine beatitude.

The Church’s faith opposes certain modern trends, which would derive dignity and rights from the individual’s capacity for knowledge and freedom. Rather, the church continually states the unborn child, the elderly person dependent on others and the individual with mental disabilities are all endowed with the intrinsic dignity which belongs to every human person.

Any attack against life, therefore, is contrary to human dignity. Likewise, the document teaches we cannot separate the masculine and feminine from God’s work of creation, which is prior to all our decisions and experience, and where biological elements exist which are impossible to ignore. Only by acknowledging and accepting this difference and reciprocity can each person fully discover themselves, their dignity and their identity.

Brothers and sisters, the last words of the Lord to us this morning are, “You are my witnesses.” So what are we instructed by the gospel today? Must we be tempted to be satisfied with some glib and superficial understanding of so profound a mystery as the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ in his human body? At this Eucharist, let us pray that, as Jesus did with those first disciples on that first Easter, the Lord also may graciously grant us faith and open our minds to the understanding of the scriptures, that we may indeed be his witnesses, that we may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory and his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the greatness of his power for us who believe.

The readings for the 3rd Sunday of Easter in year B can be found here. Dignitatis Infinita can be read here

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