Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33; I Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35
When we read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark or John we often find our own experience in broad strokes, enacted by archetypal figures. But Luke’s Gospel is detailed and each of us could find ourselves in one of his large cast of characters. Some, like Peter or the woman who washed Jesus’ feet have real star quality: they cannot act without drawing attention to themselves. Some are self-effacing like Mary, playing a big role for a short time. Others, like the holy women, happily play a supporting role in the background.
In the other three Gospels, the Resurrection narratives usually feature the stars: Peter, John, Thomas, Mary Magdalene…In Luke’s Gospel we have today’s episode featuring the back-benchers. Their ambition, yes, is to be on Team Jesus, but they’re content not to have a star’s responsibilities. Were I to sit on the side lines, I could heckle the opposition and yet be called in at the last minute to play a supporting role in the winning play. I rather like that and that may sound good but it can be very dangerous. If I were accepting who I am, that’s fine. If I look to play an insignificant role to lie low, safe from harm’s way; or to straddle the fence indecisively; or because Jesus said the last shall be first and I really want to be first, I’m heading for disaster. When I must act, I may psych myself but act arrogantly because I don’t trust myself to be myself as much as God does. If the team has a set-back, I’m crushed: I put my hope in the safety of numbers with too little trust in myself or God.
Though I’m speculating from my own vices, this may have relevance for all of us. These two back-benchers have taken their fall so hard that news of an empty tomb or vision of angels only adds to their disorientation. They don’t even recognize Jesus who is right in front of them! What can I do when life gets like that and all I feel is defeat?
Jesus does with them what a woman who was truly self-effacing did. In Luke’s Gospel, we read twice that Mary considered all these things and pondered them in her heart. I image as a nice Jewish girl from a Jewish priestly family, that meant reviewing her experience through the Torah, the prophets and the psalms. This is what Jesus does. And as he breaks open the scriptures, were not their hearts burning within them? Vitality returns as they accept the tragedy of their lives. In that reversal, hope is reborn and they can offer hospitality to this man from their brokenness.
Then he did something totally uncalled for: While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them…just as he had three evenings ago at his last Passover. In that act of self-giving they grasped that he has always been with them. When he vanished from their sight, they no longer needed to see him to be with him. In his conversation with them, he had led them to a conversion of heart, not from a list of do’s and dont’s but from owning those little flaws, evasions and fears through which real evil cripples us. They rose to new life.
Then they did something uncalled for: after sunset they ran back to Jerusalem and shared their experience with the star players who confirmed that the Lord truly lives. They has all failed him but he wouldn’t fail them. He is as close as recollection, alive in the Word of God; forgiving in a change of heart, as accessible as bread broken and shared.