The account of the journey of Cleopas and another disciple to Emmaus on the evening of the resurrection of Jesus is one of the most popular and dramatic stories of the Gospel of Luke. It is found only in Luke. The disciples are discouraged by what has happened and in their disappointment they set out on a journey. A stranger joins them. Gradually he helps them to understand, in the light of the Scriptures, the meaning of the events they have witnessed. The breaking of the bread by the Stranger allows them to see that Jesus has really risen. The news is so good that they feel they must share it with the other disciples. There is no time to waste. From being sad and disillusioned they become joyful enthusiastic missionaries of the risen Lord. They journey of the two disciples on the way to and from Emmaus helps us enter an early celebration of worship. Their conversation on the road is like the Liturgy of the Word in which they confronted their understanding of the Messiah with God’s (Luke 24:16-27). Then came the Liturgy of the Holy Communion as they broke bread with the Stranger (Luke 24:28-30). It is the combination of both Word and Sacrament that opened their eyes. We begin to understand that it is not a story about Cleopas and the other disciple but is our own story. We all have different images of God and would like God to fit into those images. Some people become disillusioned with God when he does not intervene in history. The Word of God challenges our human expectations. It helps us to come to a better understanding of who God truly is and how he does intervene in human history. When we share in his Word and are nourished by Jesus in the Sacraments, he will gradually bring his light into our lives and into the world around us. When God gives us his light he always pushes us to share with others what we have experienced.
The Gospel for this Sunday tells of two experiences of the risen Christ. The first is to the disciples without Thomas present (20:19-23) and the second to Thomas and the other disciples (20:24-29). The risen Christ came to the disciples amid their fear of the hostility directed toward them and Jesus. He immediately offered them “peace” (20:19). Then, after showing them evidence that he was their crucified Lord, he announced their mission (20:21). They were sent forth with the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive and retain sins (20:22-23). Thomas found the report of the others unbelievable and so the risen Christ appeared a second time, now in the midst of an experience of doubt. He offered Thomas the evidence he demanded (20:25,27) and urged him to believe. Thomas’ confession is the climax of John’s entire gospel: “My Lord and my God” (20:28). The Gospel closes with the purpose of the entire book of John—that the readers may believe and receive the gift of eternal life. Once again, we are reminded that our faith is not based on “proof,” but on listening to the Word of the Risen One, who speaks to us.
The Easter Sunday Gospel recounts how Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty. When she told the apostles, Peter and the beloved disciple (John) felt a deep desire to see for themselves what had happened. They ran to the tomb and found the cloth in which Jesus had been buried, nicely folded away to indicate that his body has not been robbed. The beloved disciple believed that was a sign that Jesus is truly risen. The “Beloved” disciple’s journey with Jesus is marked by his deep love for his master and friend. It is this love that helped him to recognize that the body of Jesus had not been taken away, but had risen to a totally new life. Every disciple of Jesus is called to relate to him in a similar way. As long as Jesus remains jus an ideal for the disciples there will be the danger to follow him only in thought and theory. Only when Jesus becomes a loved one, will there be a desire to really act as he would have done. Discipleship of Jesus is more a matter of heart than the head; A matter of Faith, more than of thought.
Palm Sunday brings us to the last phase of our Lenten journey that we began on Ash Wednesday. The Passion story is probably the oldest part of Christian oral tradition and the core of the Gospel. Jesus is not taken unawares by the passion. He knows it will come as a result of his faithfulness to his mission. He is faithful to the end at the cost of his life. Matthew’s passion narrative fits into the general pattern of the Servant of God in the prophet Isaiah who is rejected by the people to whom he is sent but in the end he is saved by god. And so Jesus can declare with great confidence to the High Priest who is judging him that, like the Son of Man who judges and who is glorified at the end of history, he is already glorified. In all these cases Matthew sees an event as a fulfillment of something the Scriptures have foretold. Jesus, as Son of Man, is the fulfillment of God’s great plan of salvation for his people. Even Jesus’ death shows that God is so great he brings good out of evil for those who reject him. Our lives might seem full of the unimportant and the trivial. But when we see the events of our life in the light of faith we will discover how God is leading us through them. God’s plan unfolds slowly but surely.
Jesus is life and gives life even in situations where everybody thinks that death has triumphed. He brings his friend, Lazarus, back to life after having been buried for four days. This last sign (miracle) Jesus does in the Gospel of John will lead to an intensification of opposition and the decision to kill him. The raising of Lazarus is a first sign of the reality which his resurrection after his own death will reveal fully. At the heart of today’s Gospel is the statement of Jesus to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life, the one who believes in me, even if he dies will live; and whoever believes in me will never die. By raising Lazarus to life, Jesus shows that he is master even of death and can give to those who follow him a way of life that is more powerful than death.
This Gospel is found only in John’s Gospel. Jesus heals a man born blind. He is contrasted with the religious leaders, who see very well with their eyes, but are spiritually blind and in even greater need of healing. Jesus does not only give him back his ability to see. He restores him to a meaningful relationship with other people and with God, capable of participating more meaningfully in the worship of his people. The healing of the blind man, shows that real blindness is not so much the physical lack of sign, but rather the failure to believe that Jesus is the Anointed One (the Messiah) who has been sent by God. And there is much real blindness, starting with the disciples who think that the man is blind from birth because of some sin committed either by him or by his parents before his birth. His neighbors who hear that Jesus healed the man are not led immediately to seek him out and believe in him. Rather, they bring him to the Pharisees for questioning. For the Pharisees, the fact that the healing took place on the Sabbath was enough to discredit Jesus as a man of God. This Gospel reminds us during our Lenten journey that only Jesus can heal spiritual blindness. Jesus has to heal our blindness all the time.
Jesus says to Nicodemus, "Unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God." (v. 3) Nicodemus responds --"How can a man be born when he is old?" Jesus answered, "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (vs. 5-6) In these words, Jesus made the conditions for entering the kingdom clear. The kingdom of God is not entered by anything we do, but through a transformation brought about by God. We do not enter the Spirit's realm through our own efforts. We enter the realm of God's Spirit through the water of Baptism and the Holy Spirit's efforts. Baptism is the washing of regeneration -- rebirth. Through it, the Spirit adopts us as his own, bringing us under his dominion. Jesus offered Nicodemus and us the key to understanding. What is "heavenly" has come to earth: "the Son of man" (v.13). In the Son, God has come to earth and opened his heart and will to us. Perishing in spiritual confusion and death, we have only to look to Jesus to find life, as the smitten children of Israel looked to the bronze serpent erected by Moses as a sign of God's grace. Then the text leads naturally to the best loved passage of Scripture, John 3:16-17, the heart of the gospel. The Spirit of God is seeking you out to make you his own. The Greek word "anothen" (v.3) has a double meaning -- "anew" or "from above." Tragically, the "born again" movement of the 1960's interpreted "anothen" as "born again." The word "again" is used to describe how one can be accepted into the Kingdom without being baptized. However, according to the New Testament and this passage in particular, Jesus describes salvation as a gift of God's Spirit given through the "water and Spirit" of baptism alone and does not imply any "decision," or "will" on our part. This text is for Trinity Sunday because it declares God to "be one". As our Father, He is behind all the good that occurs. As the Son, He is the revelation of love. As the Spirit, He is bringing us a new and eternal life in His Kingdom.
The transfiguration is an epiphany (revelation), a moment at which the glory of the risen Christ, who shall also come in glory at the end of the world, is made manifest in advance, even in advance of his passion and death. Upon the mountain Jesus was “transfigured.” The Greek term literally means, “a change in form.” The idea it conveys is that Jesus’ earthly form was exchanged for that of his heavenly form; for a moment in time he appeared to his disciples as the risen, glorified Christ. In particular he appeared to them in the form of the Son on man who is portrayed in the book of Revelation (1:12-16). Two Old Testament figures appear on the scene: Moses and Elijah. These two men had an important role concerning the coming of the Messiah. Moses was the first to announce his coming (Deut 18:15), and Elijah was to return and announce his coming at the last hour (Mal 4:5-6). Why would Peter suggest making dwellings on this occasion? Dwellings symbolized that the people were “at rest” under the protection of God during the 40 years, and that they would again be “at rest” in the messianic age to come. The high point of the drama followed. A “bright cloud” overshadowed them—an indication of God’s presence. God spoke out of the cloud: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased: listen to him.” Here the Father confirmed Jesus’ own teaching that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise.
In this lesson from the Sermon on the Mount the truly hard cases are dealt with. How is one to react to insult, injury, and bothersome requests? And if one has enemies, how does one relate to them? The first part of the text deals generally with nonresistance. Jesus departed from the given form of the law to get to a deeper concern: one should not go about life seeking revenge for wrongs committed against them. Christians are not to let their own concerns for self govern their attitude toward others, regardless of how insulting, annoying, abusive, or demanding others may be. What is at stake, then, in this section (5:38-42) of the Sermon on the Mount is a way of life that is responsive to the will of God, not self-will, in problems which face us. The next section (Matt 5:43-48) deals with the extent of love. Jesus said, Christians are to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors. To love one’s enemies sounds impossible. But the term love has a breadth of meaning in the Bible it does not have today. Love in the Bible is not merely an emotional thing, nor is it “liking” the other person to a high degree. It is a commitment of the one who loves toward the other person, and it seeks the well-being of the latter. Christians love not because other people evoke a feeling of love from them, but because it is the Christian’s nature to love; the Christian is simply a loving person. Christ himself gives us the capacity to love, and even forgive!
Our text comes from the section of the Sermon on the Mount which spells out the “higher righteousness” prescribed for Jesus’ followers (Matt 5-7). Three of these sections are covered in this text: adultery, divorce, and oaths. First Adultery: “You shall not commit adultery” is one of the Ten Commandments. A wife was thought of essentially as her husband’s possession, therefore adultery was the act by which one man offended his neighbor by trespassing on another man’s property. A man could have several wives and even women servants (a harem) and still not be considered an adulterer as long as he kept to his own. Divorce second: Jesus was clearly opposed to divorce. It is not likely that he granted any exceptions. Unless it has been broken by adultery already, those who go through a divorce and remarry are themselves guilty of adultery. While legalism should be avoided, the church must be in the business of asserting the sanctity of marriage and seek, through support and counseling, to shore up marriages which begin to disintegrate. Neverless, to affirm that even in the area of divorce and remarriage the doctrine of forgiveness of sins in operative. Third oaths: It is said that all speech must be truthful. It need not be accompanied by an oath to make it so. Language cannot, according to Jesus, be used to deceive, and no double standard can be used which required truth where an oath is taken and allows lying where there is no oath. One of the great problems of mankind is clear communication. The problem is that people use language to deceive. Jesus is urging his disciples to energetically seek reconciliation with others as we have received reconciliation with God as the result of Jesus’ death on the cross. Paul teaches (2 Cor 5:19) that we have been reconciled with God and empowered by Christ to live out Christ’s mission of reconciliation in our daily lives.