Third Sunday of Easter (Year B)

When viewed within the confines of Luke 24, this text presents the third of three resurrection appearances.

April 26, 2009

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Commentary on Luke 24:36b-48

When viewed within the confines of Luke 24, this text presents the third of three resurrection appearances.

Prior to this, there had been the resurrection appearance to Cleopas and an unidentified disciple on the way to and at the meal in Emmaus (Luke 24:13-29a, 29b-32), and an off-stage resurrection appearance to Simon (Luke 24:33-34).

In our verses, the risen Jesus suddenly appears in the midst of his disciples, bidding them peace and demonstrating that he was not some sort of ghost but had a physical resurrected reality (Luke 24:36-42).

He then calls attention to what he had previously spoken regarding the fulfillment of God’s plan rooted in Scripture concerning the Messiah’s suffering, resurrection, and the preaching of repentance and forgiveness in his name with the disciples as witnesses (Luke 24:44-48).

The text closes with a promise regarding power from on high and a command to remain in the city until the promise is fulfilled (Luke 24:49).

From this perspective, the text may seem reasonably benign and fairly self-contained.

But, when viewed within the context of Luke’s meta-narrative, this text marks the midway point in the divine drama. It is akin to closing scenes in such episodic narratives as The Revenge of the Sith or The Two Towers or Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. At one and the same time, our text serves as the closing arch for some central components of the larger story, while immediately establishing the opening framework for newly enacted facets of the grand story.

The text also presents three interlocking hermeneutical circles. These circles become the key to missional outreach throughout Acts (the next episode within the divine drama), and for our missional outreach as Christ’s witnesses (the contemporary episode within the divine drama).

The first hermeneutical circle signaled in the text is the dynamic interplay between Scripture and Jesus.

From the start of Luke’s gospel, divine prophecies and promises embedded in Scripture find their fulfillment in Jesus (cf. Luke 1:31-33, 46-55, 68-75; 4:18-21, etc.). Of these, the most important is the Messiah’s passion and resurrection (Luke 24:6-7, 26-27, 46).

Three significant points should be noted regarding Luke’s understanding of the prophecy/promise-fulfillment scheme involving Jesus’ death and resurrection.

First, this is not the first time Jesus has spoken about his death and resurrection as divine necessity (see Luke 9:22, 44; 18:31-33; etc.). Prior to the enactment of his death and resurrection, however, the disciples were completely incapable of comprehending Jesus’ passion prophecies (Luke 9:45; 18:34). Only now, as the crucified and resurrected Christ stands in their midst interpreting these things via Scripture, are the disciples capable of comprehending (Luke 24:44-45).

Second, at this point in the story Luke’s main intention is not to establish which particular scriptural passages are being fulfilled but to demonstrate how all Scripture finds its ultimate meaning in Jesus, particularly in his passion and resurrection.1

Third, the hermeneutical circle between Scripture and Jesus is complete precisely because the one who is interpreting Scripture is Jesus. For Luke, Scripture finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, and Jesus is the ultimate interpreter of the meaning and thrust of Scripture.

The text’s next hermeneutical circle involves Jesus and his disciples.

On the one hand, Jesus is telling them about their mission as witnesses or testifiers to the divine salvific scheme established in Scripture and fulfilled by Jesus (the “these things” of verse 48). On the other hand, the testimonial mission of the community entails preaching, repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name (cf. Acts 2:21, 38; etc.).

Hence, Jesus presents the community of disciples with its mission, and the core of missional outreach returns to God’s salvation emanating in Jesus’ name.

The final hermeneutical circle involves Scripture and the disciples’ mission.

The Greek construction of Luke 24:46-47 clearly presents Scripture’s core prophetic promise involving the Messiah’s suffering, rising, and repentance and forgiveness of sins being preached in his name to all nations. The community’s evangelical outreach to the world is not an option, but an indispensible component of the divine salvific plan embedded in Scripture itself. From Acts 1 through Acts 28, the interpretive circle continuously flows from the community to Scripture. Events at hand are always interpreted in light of Scripture (cf. Acts 1:15-20; 2:14-36; etc.).

Thus our text presents Scripture, Jesus the Messiah, and Communal Outreach as the intertwining and indispensible components within God’s worldwide plan of salvation. Nevertheless the text also recognizes that something is missing: the Holy Spirit which empowers God’s salvific plan involving Scripture, Jesus, and communal outreach.

The promise of being clothed with power from on high in verse 49 immediately moves backwards and forwards in Luke’s divine drama.

It recalls Gabriel’s explanation to Mary regarding her virginal conception in Luke 1:35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Thus, the Holy Spirit which empowered the impossible, a virgin conceiving God’s Son, will empower the community to do what is otherwise impossible, testifying to God’s salvation flowing to all nations in the name of God’s Son.

At the same time, this promise anticipates the incredible events and proclamation empowered by the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-42), as well as the Spirit coming upon Gentiles to demonstrate how God’s salvation involves all nations (Acts 10:1-11:18).

When understood in relationship to this grand divine drama, the Gospel lesson for the third Sunday of Easter presents much more than Jesus’ final resurrection appearance. It presents the vision of our inclusion within God’s salvific plan involving Scripture, Jesus, and Communal Outreach fueled by the Holy Spirit.

1Thus the pervasive description, “everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms” in Luke 24:44.