Commentary on Luke 24:36b-48
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).