Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
The recognition of the Risen Lord by His disciples was never immediate nor obvious: actually, at every appearance account, we see that Jesus’ companions are struggling to recognize that the man who is before them is really Jesus with Whom they lived, in Whom they believed.
Indeed, today’s Gospel passage (Lk 24:35-48) is no exception: Luke tells us that the disciples were “startled and terrified,” and that they positively “thought they were seeing a ghost” (Lk 24:37). And Jesus must reassure and rebuke them: “Why are you troubled, and why are doubts rising in your hearts?” (Lk 24:38).
The passage of today helps us understand what the disciples’ real difficulty is: they think they are seeing a ghost, a spirit, not a true person of flesh and bone. And Jesus reassures them precisely in this respect: “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Lk 24:39).
The disciples’ difficulty is that of not being able to conceive that Jesus can be true, real. They think that everything that goes through death now belongs to a fleeting world, made of memories and nostalgia, not in the world of our life. Everything that underwent death can no longer be part of our real, ordinary experience.
It is just the opposite, instead: there is nothing more truth, more real, more certain of what has passed through death, and has come out alive. Precisely because He died and rose again, Jesus now belongs to life in the full sense, in a definitive way: He conquered death, and now death has no more power over Him; His life is a real life.
To understand this, the disciples must be helped to make a transition, a leap of faith; but this leap of faith is not in their ability, and it will be Jesus Himself that will help them understand such a transition. In two ways: the first is that of eating in front of them (Lk 24:42-43). Jesus does the most normal thing that can be done, in a certain sense the most human. Then Jesus is not a ghost, but He remained a man, a real man, like us: there is in Him our total humanity.
But once this was done, Jesus leads them further and opens their mind to the understanding of the Scriptures. The verb to open, in the Gospels, always has a therapeutic value, it is always used in those miracles where Jesus gives back sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf. Also here, Jesus heals His disciples, and heals them from their inability to understand the Scripture, to re-read the history of salvation, and He leads them to see that the style of the Paschal Mystery is the true soul of the covenant between God and His people, it is the style of God. Jesus places the disciples’ experience with the history of salvation into an exchange of views, and He does it to open their mind.
But even this is not sufficient: it’s not enough that the disciples perceive that all is not finished, that all has not been a failure. They must also understand that for them, now, all has started, that the Pasch of Jesus, the fulfillment of the Scriptures, is a new beginning for them: “repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Lk 24:47).
In this verse, it seems important to us to highlight two elements.
The first is the conversion-forgiveness of sins binomial. This combination will also return in the apostles’ preaching: after the healing of the cripple, Peter will tell the crowd that looks at him in amazement: “…God has thus accomplished what was foretold through the mouth of the prophets, that is, that His Christ must suffer. Repent therefore and be converted, so that your sins may be wiped away (Acts 3:18-19).
And a little later, before the Sanhedrin, he will repeat the same thing: “God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit that God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:31-32).
It means that Peter, and the other disciples with him, have understood very well that this combination is essential: they have understood that forgiveness is the key to understand the Scriptures, and that to access forgiveness it’s necessary to convert, to change the mentality.
Conversion, in the Gospels, does not mean moral perfection, does not correspond to a condition where one sins no more. Conversion is that change of mentality that causes us to recognize our sin, our refusal to receive the Lord, and, therefore, makes us beggars of forgiveness. Conversion is therefore opening our heart to the Lord. The disciples are witnesses of this, of nothing else; they are witnesses that, in the Risen Lord, this possibility of conversion and forgiveness is extended to all, it is for everyone.
For all, but “beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24:47). This is the second interesting thing.
Jesus says that conversion and forgiveness will be preached to all people, and for “people,” Luke the evangelist uses a Greek term that is used only to say, pagan people.
So, we could say, the invitation of Jesus resounds like this: “go among the pagan people, starting from the pagan people that are in Jerusalem!” The first pagan peoples to evangelize are always ourselves, it is our family, our nation, our city. The pagans are not others but are us.
Easter wants to give us a present, conversion for the forgiveness of sins.