Third Sunday of Easter, Year B, 4/19/15: Sermon
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” Last week we considered the importance of a bodily resurrection. This week the gospel from Luke speaks of Jesus opening the minds of his disciples. As I said last week, the scriptures suggest a wholeness of body, mind, and spirit.
In the fifty days following the resurrection our tradition claims that Jesus made many appearances to his disciples, only a few of which are recorded. Why was Jesus among them for fifty days beyond the reason that as many people could see him as possible? One of the reasons, which comes from today’s text, is the opportunity to interpret his resurrection in light of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures.
Today’s account follows immediately on Luke’s story of Jesus appearing to two disciples, one named Cleopas, on the Emmaus Road. As they walked, Jesus “opened the scriptures” to them. More specifically he seems to have spoken about the act of his suffering by utilizing the imagery of the prophets. And yet the disciples did not recognize that it was him until they arrived at Emmaus and they broke bread together. There is a common theme among the post-resurrection stories that the disciples do not recognize Jesus at first as he stands among them.
In our text this morning Jesus appears again in Jerusalem and continued to “open their minds to understand the scripture.” So, Jesus first opened the scriptures. And then he opened their minds to understand the scripture. Jesus was not only a teacher of his own parables. But he had used the Old Testament, for example, when he came into a synagogue and read and interpreted a text from Isaiah. He broke open the meaning of the Jewish texts for his new context in light of his ministry. St. Augustine in his commentary on this text suggested that Jesus was teaching the disciples about the Church.
No doubt part of our job as Christians is to understand the meaning of the Scriptures and our Tradition as best we can. Our minds have the God-given capacity to “read, and learn, and inwardly digest,” the Holy Scriptures. And we Anglicans have long encouraged a reasonable approach to faith. Some have said it is the kind of church where “you don’t have to leave your brain at the door.” Of course we don’t have exclusive claim to this, but it does hint to the Catholic tradition of using one’s reason to understand the Christian faith in our current intellectual context.
But I don’t think Jesus is merely trying to break open the perfect interpretation of scripture. What Jesus is really trying to break open isn’t so much the perfect meaning of the texts, but the hearts of those who would hear him. It isn’t merely about understanding the facts of the texts, but the meaning of the facts. I think God is much more interested in our desire to understand.
Much earlier in the Gospel of Luke Jesus encounters an interpreter of the Jewish Law whom he commends for identifying the central meaning of their shared religion: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” He was quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy, this central Jewish text that encapsulates love of God and neighbor, through one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Love of God with one’s mind isn’t merely about understanding, because after Jesus opens their minds to the scripture, he immediately tells them to go and tell others. He says “You are witnesses of these things.” And he didn’t say “you ought to be” witnesses, but “you are witnesses.” This is just who they are as his disciples. Understanding the gospel leads to proclaiming the gospel beginning right where they are in Jerusalem. And proclaiming is not merely to tell people that these things have happened, but to live and speak in such a way that the gospel is shown. May we ever learn not only to understand our faith with our minds, but to live out its meaning in our lives. And may God continually open our minds as we open the scriptures and our hearts. Amen.