“Jesus himself stood among them” Luke 24:36
Three words beginning with “w” capture a sense of the Gospel reading. In Saint Luke Chapter 24 Verse 41, we are told that the disciples were still “wondering”; in Verses 44 and 46 Jesus talks to them about everything “written” about him; and in Verse 48 he tells them that they will be witnesses.
Wondering is a natural human reaction, questioning what we see and hear, considering what these things might mean.
The disciples would have wondered about Jesus’ life and ministry, what had it all meant? What had been the purpose of the teaching and the miracles if it was all to end in such a way? The disciples would have wondered about that past week in Jerusalem, a week that had begun with the excitement of the crowd on that first Palm Sunday and ended with the horror of that first Good Friday. The disciples would have wondered about all they had seen and heard and why it should have been this way.
Then the disciples would have wondered about all that had happened on that first day of the week. They would have wondered about the stories they had heard from the women, from Peter and John, from the two who had been walking to Emmaus and who had now returned to Jerusalem and were with them telling their story. As they were wondering about it all, we are told, in Verse 36, “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.'” Despite all their wondering, this is still not something they expected and Verse 37 tells us, “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”
Jesus understands our human wondering, our inquiring and questioning spirit, and says to the disciples in Verses 38-39, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” The human need for evidence that can be sensed, that can be seen, heard and touched, is recognized and Verse 40 tells us that Jesus “showed them his hands and his feet.”
The disciples are exhilarated, the stories they have heard are true, and yet they are still uncertain. Saint Luke says they were still not convinced and tells us in Verse 41-43, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.” What further evidence could they possibly have required? What cause for further wondering could there be?
What things cause us to wonder? Where in the disciples journey of wondering might we put ourselves?
When Jesus talks to the disciples he twice uses the word “written”. He reminds them in Verse 44, of what he had told them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” When we read the books of the Law, the prophets and the psalms, we find numerous references to what would happen to Jesus and the writers of the Gospels are anxious to make the point that what they describe is a fulfilment of all that was previously written.
In fulfilment of the Law, we read verses like Saint John Chapter 19 Verse 36, “These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken,'”, which is inspired by Exodus Chapter 12 Verse 46. In fulfilment of the prophets we read the story of the ride into Jerusalem as inspired by Zechariah Chapter 9 Verse 9; we read the account of the trial an crucifixion as a fulfilment of the passages known as the Servant Songs in Isaiah Chapters 42, 49, 50 and 53. In fulfilment of the psalms, there can be no more graphic prophecy of the suffering of Jesus than the words of Psalm 22.
Jesus explains all these things to them. Saint Luke Chapter 24 Verses 45-46 tell us, “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them , ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day.'” The disciples were people whose lives were rooted in Scripture, they were people who would have been taught the Scriptures from their earliest age, when Jesus says to them, “Thus it is written”, it would have been heard as much more than a passing comment, it would have been heard as Jesus as saying to them, “this is what God says”.
We are people who wonder? Are we people who hear what is written? As Jesus describes his own life and ministry as God working his purposes out, do we have confidence that God still acts in fulfilment of all that is written?
The third “w” is witnesses. In Verses 47-48, Jesus says, “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” If we turn to the original Greek version of Saint Luke, we see that the word Luke uses is “martures”, our word for “martyrs”. In The New Testament, being described as a martyr was not primarily about suffering or death, though these might be a consequence of someone being a martyr, being a martyr was about being a witness.
“You are witnesses of these things”, says Jesus, you are martyrs. The focus is on their task in speaking of all they have seen and all they have heard. To be a witness, a martyr, is the first duty of the apostles. When the need to find someone to take Judas’ place as one of the Twelve arises, Peter is very specific about what their role is to be, in Act Chapter 1 Verses 21-22, he says, “One of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”
In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter returns frequently to the thought of the disciples as witnesses, as martyrs. On the day of Pentecost, speaking to the crowd, he says, in Acts Chapter 2 Verse 32, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses”. In Chapter 3 Verse 15, he tells the people standing at the portico of the Temple, “you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses”. In Chapter 5 Verse 32, Peter speaks to the Jewish council, “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” Being a witness, a martyr, was about telling all people what they have seen and heard, so, in Chapter 10 Verses 39-41, Peter speaks to a Gentile gathering, the centurion Cornelius and his friends and tells them about Jesus, “We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.” Jesus rose from the dead, says Peter and appeared, “not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”
“You are witnesses of these things”, says Jesus, and the disciples would be left under no illusion about what it meant to be a witness.
What about ourselves? Are we martyrs? Are we people whose daily lives are a testament to what we believe?
Three words beginning with “w”: wonder, written and witness; three words that ask us about our own faith.