Lectionary Commentaries for April 18, 2021
Third Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Gospel

Commentary on Luke 24:36b-48

Jin Young Choi

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, early Christians struggled to understand when (and whether) Jesus would return (Acts 1:11b) and how to live in the in-between time during his absence. 

Luke tries to respond to these significant questions. After preaching about John’s post-Easter story for the last two Sundays, the preacher can draw a different message from Luke’s version. Rather than looking to Luke to provide factual evidence of the resurrection, we can ask in what sense Jesus’ resurrection becomes a reality—how, after the Ascension, Jesus is present with his followers in certain ways.

When they touch Jesus’ resurrected body

Although Jesus’ body can disappear from human sight and thus appear phantasmic (apantos, Luke 24:31), he clearly states that he is not a ghost as the disciples thought (Luke 24:37, 39). Luke uses the term pneuma for a ghost in this story, not phantasma (see also Mark 6:49; Matthew 14:26). Jesus does not breathe the Spirit on the disciples (see John 20:22). Instead, they receive the Holy Spirit only after Jesus’ ascension. Luke stresses the physical reality of the resurrection: Jesus’ resurrected body has “flesh and bones.” Jesus feels hungry and eats a piece of broiled fish “in their presence” (24:42–43). Jesus’ eating before the disciples not only confirms the physicality of Jesus’ body, but also demonstrates his presence, especially in the context of hospitality. He is “in the midst” of them (24:36, 43). Although the story of Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (24:13–35) is not included in our lectionary text, it is worth discussing because it also displays crucial aspects of the resurrection reality.  

When they invite a stranger 

Jesus appears as a stranger (paroikeis) to the disciple named Cleopas and his companion on the way from Jerusalem to Emmaus (24:18). When they speak to the stranger about what has happened regarding Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus explains what all the scriptures say concerning himself (verse 27). As they approach the destination, they urge him to stay with them. At the table, he takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to them, just as he did in the feeding of the five thousand (kataklinei, “take a place at table,” used in 9:14; 14:8; 24:30). Their eyes are finally opened, and they recognize him. In his earthly ministry, Jesus had table fellowship with people, particularly with the marginalized, and was “welcomed” by sinners (19:6–7). He even identified himself with one who serves at a table (ho diakonōn, 22:27). The two disciples could not imagine they would have the risen Jesus with them when they invited a stranger. The resurrection reality may come to light when we welcome guests and those who take the lowest places in society (see also 10:5–7; 14:10; Matthew 25:34–40).

When they talk about…

When the two disciples were talking with each other about the recent events, Jesus approached them and walked with them. The word homilein (“talk or converse with”) appears only in Luke’s writings (Luke 24:14, 15; Acts 20:11; 24:26). One can think of a homily as communicating with a crowd or assembly (homilos). A stranger intervenes in their conversation. Their hope for Jesus as redeeming Israel has been frustrated (24:21), but the stranger reminds them of the Messiah whom all the scriptures spoke about. When they recognize the risen Jesus at the table, Jesus disappears. Yet, they can still feel their “burning heart”—the feeling when Jesus “opened” the scriptures (verse 32). The two return to Jerusalem and learn that Jesus has also appeared to Peter. Again, when they talk about their experiences, Jesus is in their midst and passes the peace (verse 36). Jesus eats before them and reminds them of his teaching in his earthly life. Everything written about him in the scriptures has been fulfilled in his death and resurrection. 

What is left is his followers’ work as witnesses, and Jesus will send them what God promised. As in the account of the road to Emmaus, Jesus opens their minds to understand the scriptures (verses 31, 45). When the preacher and believers share their lives in light of the scriptures, they experience their hearts kindled and their minds opened. This experience—both rational and personal—is a part of the reality the resurrection brings. The believers are not anxious about “thoughts arising in hearts” (verse 38, KJV) and unbelief turns into joy (verses 41, 52; see also John 16:20).

When they are witnesses

The disciples’ eyes were opened in the communion with Jesus, and their minds were opened in his teaching of the scriptures. Now they are “witnesses” to the resurrection reality (Luke 24:48). While Jesus in John’s story relates receiving the Holy Spirit to the practice of forgiving sins in the community (20:23), Luke highlights proclaiming of repentance for the forgiveness of sins as the followers are witnesses to “these things” (24:47–49). The Holy Spirit Jesus is going to send will empower them. Yet, we have to note that “all these things” Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women witnessed—most probably with burning hearts—are regarded as “nonsense”; the male disciples did not believe the women (24:9–11). Although Luke gives names to the women, he is ignorant about or ignores the story of Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11–18). Are women’s words or homilies still discredited in our time? 

When women and men are empowered

We will see God pour out the Holy Spirit upon “all people”—sons and daughters, men and women on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17–18). The post-resurrection reality is not confined to the locked-down room. Jesus’ followers do not remain sad or in sorrow, but are filled with joy and confidence to be witnesses. Touching and seeing Jesus’ wounds in his hands and feet does not just invoke trauma, but demonstrates that, as the resurrection reality is touchable, God is reachable (Luke 24:39; Acts 17:27). Jesus lifts his wounded hands to bless his followers—women and men—to be witnesses to how they experience the resurrection today (Luke 24:50).


First Reading

Commentary on Acts 3:12-19

Matt Skinner

When interpreting Acts, especially the speeches it contains, it is important to pay attention to how this peculiar book communicates its theological understanding of what’s going on in the post-Easter world. 

That’s a big topic, but one especially pertinent detail is this: Acts never describes exactly how Jesus accomplishes God’s salvation or why he had to die before the Holy Spirit would come and (re)gather people into an alternate society. Acts offers no fancy atonement theories or trite spiritual laws that will satisfy people who prefer a theology that explains. Instead, Acts repeatedly insists that Jesus is the one who brings God’s salvific promises to fulfillment, that he is the Messiah promised to Israel, and that his resurrection is the ground of our hope. The theological emphases on display in Acts aim to help you trust

When people stand up and address audiences in Acts, like Peter does in Acts 3, they urge them to begin a journey that resembles the road the earliest Christ-followers walked. Embrace Jesus and align yourself with his movement, for he brings and enacts the salvation that God provides to humanity. Tell others (Acts 1:8). Pay attention to what happens next. Consult the scriptures so you don’t forget about all the wild promises God is fulfilling. Remain open to the Spirit and trust God to reveal to you (plural) more and more ways in which God is enlarging your (plural) understanding of the alternate society God is creating. And never forget that all of that is founded in Jesus.

Acts tells believers that they are part of an ongoing quest to discover, steward, and share the good news that through Jesus Christ God has changed the world and made a pledge about the future. The quest begins in trust. Theology is what you discover as a result. 

No wonder, then, that Peter begins his sermon in Solomon’s Portico by directing focus immediately to the God of Israel and the power that resides in the name of the glorified Jesus. Recall that Peter has this preaching opportunity in the first place because a crowd of his fellow Jews has gathered to marvel at the man standing next to him and John. Formerly that man was unable to walk and able to survive only because of handouts he collected at one of the temple gates. Now he’s bouncing around and praising God aloud. Peter wastes little time in insisting that he and John had little to do with it.

This scene reiterates what Acts announces from its opening verse: the story of Jesus really has not ended. It continues to expand. We see that when the man experiences healing, recalling a deed Jesus performed in Luke 5:17-26 (see Acts 14:8-10, when Paul gets in on the act). We see it also in Peter’s sermon when he accuses the assembled “people” (laos; see also Acts 3:23) of rejecting and killing Jesus, “the Holy and Righteous One” and “the Author of life” (Acts 3:14-15).1 Even though there is no reason to assume that this crowd at the temple is the same group of “people” (see laos in Luke 23:13) who demanded that Pilate kill Jesus, still Acts treats them as representatives of the city that previously missed God’s arrival (Luke 19:41-44; see also 13:34).2 They, like their leaders, couldn’t grasp what was happening. Therefore the message to this gathering of “the people” is familiar: repent (see Luke 3:3; 5:32; 24:47; Acts 2:38). That is, renounce your pre-Easter ignorance and open your mind to the reality that God has vindicated Jesus. Embrace the truth that more is to come.

The sermon promises a number of things to which the crowd can look forward: sins expunged (the same verb exaleiphō appears also in the Septuagint’s rendering of Psalm 51:1, 9), refreshment, and Christ’s eventual return. A preacher has to read beyond verse 19 to reach all of those enticing promises, which should strike all sensible preachers as a good idea. Congregations feel like they’re getting a fuller story when the assigned reading ends with a period instead of a comma, so go at least through verse 21. In that case you’ll be able to inform your listeners that the experience of the healed man offers a kind of sneak peek at a grander future. The NRSV, in verse 31, calls that future state of affairs “the time of universal restoration,” but a better translation is “the restoration of all people,” or possibly “the restoration of all things.”

That phrase appears nowhere else in the New Testament, so it isn’t entirely clear what Peter is talking about. Nevertheless, reading still more verses will help. If we keep going all the way to the end of the sermon, Peter credits the prophets with the idea of “the restoration of all,” and he connects it to the covenant God made with Abraham, so it has to be big—bigger than Moses (see Deuteronomy 18:15-20) and finally inclusive of “all the families of the earth” (see Genesis 12:3). But the road to the grandiose vision begins here, with this crowd. Peter asks them to trust. To embrace Jesus.

A key point in the final movement of the sermon, then, is that Peter describes Jesus and the future to come as continuous with promises God has made in the past. That should be a familiar claim in churches that read the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) during Advent. But it bears repeating in Easter, lest congregations dangerously imagine that a passage like this offers a reason for gentile boasting.3

Preachers err if they treat this passage as an appeal to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, as if that is a kind of lever that unlocks salvation for an individual. See it instead as an echo of something Jesus said in his own ministry: we live in a time that calls for repentance. Even better: we live in a time in which repentance is possible (see Luke 13:1-9). Readers who listen regularly to Sermon Brainwave have heard me say before that repentance is a much larger notion than moral contrition or a commitment to live differently. It is to adopt a whole new outlook. It’s to be brought to the realization that a seeking Savior is coming to deliver you (see Luke 15:10). Not even death can stop him. The man who is healed prior to the sermon knows that. He knows what it is to be brought into a totally changed world.


Notes

    1. The term laos in Luke-Acts often carries a connection to the collective people of Israel or people who represent Israel as a nation.
    2. Sharpening the accusation, the word you, when appearing as a subject in Acts 3:13-14, is emphatic in Greek.
    3. Note that the material Peter appears to be quoting in Acts 3:22-23 is not taken directly from the Septuagint. It consists mostly of material from Deuteronomy 18:15-20 with words from Leviticus 23:29 added. That combination makes it one of the more problematic passages in Acts.

Psalm

Commentary on Psalm 4

Working Preacher

Commentary is forthcoming for this text.


Second Reading

Commentary on 1 John 3:1-7

Elisabeth Johnson

This passage echoes a prominent theme in John’s Gospel, namely, what it means to be children of God (tekna theou). John 1:12-13 declares that “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” 

The author of 1 John declares to readers/hearers that they are children of God, not by any merit of their own, but because God has shown such love for them as to call them God’s children (3:1). The “what” of verse 1 (“See what love the Father has given us…”) translates potapên in Greek, a word that can signify both quantity (how much) and quality (what extraordinary love). 

Perhaps the division in the Johannine community1 had given rise to doubts about who were truly God’s children. The author reassures the community that if the world does not recognize them as God’s children, it is because it did not know Jesus as God’s Son (see also John 17, 14-16). As in John’s Gospel, so also in 1 John; the “world” (kosmos) often means the realm of unbelief and opposition to God’s purposes. Here the author implies that those who have separated from the community belong to the “world” in this negative sense.

The author emphasizes both the present reality of believers’ divine parentage (“Beloved, we are God’s children now…”) and the hope of its full realization when Jesus returns. While the contours of this realization remain a mystery (“what we will be has not yet been revealed”), we know that we will see Jesus as he is and that we will be like him (3:2; see also 1 Corinthians 13:12). The author declares that “all who have this hope purify themselves, just as he is pure” (3:3).

The nature of Christian hope is to live simultaneously in the “now” and the “not yet.” We are called to live into the future reality that God has promised. Perhaps this is the context in which to understand the following verses about sin (verses 4-7), which seem to contradict what the author has already said in 1:6-10. Whereas the author had affirmed in 1:6-10 that it is delusional for anyone to say that they are without sin, now he circles back to say that it is also delusional to think that we can abide in Christ and continue to sin as though nothing has changed. 

The purity of Christ that is to characterize believers is not some esoteric quality but is manifest in concrete acts of love. “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (3:16; see also John 15:12-13). This is the theme of the second half of chapter 3 (3:11-24), that God’s children are to love “not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (3:18). Such love is embodied in concrete acts of giving and service. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” (3:17).

1 John is in harmony with John’s Gospel in insisting on only two commandments, which are in fact two sides of the same coin: “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (3:23; see also John 13:34-35; 14:1; 15:12-13).

Like John’s Gospel, 1 John focuses on loving “one another” or loving brothers and sisters within the community. Little is said about loving those outside the fellowship of believers. One could even ask whether the author shows love for those who were once part of the community but have left, as he implies that they are of the world (3:1), children of the devil (3:8-10), and even applies the term “anti-Christ” to them (2:22; 4:3). 

In communities torn apart by conflict, there is often a tendency for each side to see things in black and white categories and to demonize the other side. The challenge for leaders is to know where and how to set clear boundaries to guard against theology and practices that are harmful to the community, while at the same time demonstrating God’s love to those who push the boundaries or traverse them altogether.

1 John gives us an example of boundary-setting but is perhaps not so helpful for encouragement to love adversaries. For the latter we need to consider other portions of Scripture. The preacher should not be afraid to balance the polemical tendencies of 1 John with other scriptural texts that speak of love for enemies. In Matthew 5:43-48, for example, Jesus commands love for enemies as behavior befitting children of the heavenly Father.

In any case, the author’s purpose in this passage is to reassure a community troubled by the departure of some of its members that God’s claim on their lives has not changed. They are God’s beloved children, called into fellowship with the Father and the Son, called to grow evermore into the likeness of the One who has called them, anticipating the day when he will be fully revealed.

Notes

  1. See my commentary on 1 John 1:1–2:2.