He Opened Their Minds
Luke 24: 36 — 49
It is hard for us to imagine the effect the experience of the two men who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus had on the Apostles and those companions who were joining them in prayer on this occasion. The testimony of two was enough to intensify their belief that Jesus had not left them abandoned. This caused a great interest, and lively discussion, in the midst of which, the unexpected happens.
Some Notes On The Text
Verse 36 — 40
What they were still talking about was the reappearance of Jesus to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and how they recognised him in the breaking of the bread. Jesus now visits the whole gathering of the Apostles together with their companions and greets them in the usual way.
They could not hide their fear: "They were startled and frightened" at this bodiless being who was perceptible to the eye.
Jesus asks literally, why they have unspoken thoughts concerning the truth of what they see. Then he takes time to restore their confidence, gently and lovingly. He does this by inviting them to be very human and letting them look at and touch his scars.
Verses 41 — 43
They are completely at peace when they watch Jesus eat some baked fish. Many spiritual writers draw a parallel with breaking bread.
Verse 44 — 47
At this point Jesus repeats similar teaching given to the two on the road to Emmaus, to enable all the disciples to understand the Old Testament prophecies of his coming. In essence he says, interpret everything that has happened using the instruction I gave you while I was teaching. His reference to "the Law Of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms", was the Hebrew way of referring to the whole Bible of that time.
The most wonderful thing then happened to them. Jesus opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. They became conscious of a new spiritual power of insight and knowledge which they had not possessed before. We note that Jesus did not open their minds without taking them back into the Scriptures, nor without the benefit of the Spirit to illuminate and carry on guiding them in the future. The word "opened" means "opened fully". Thus they see not only the prophecies pointing to the Messiah, but they see the Messiah who was pointed out by these prophecies. They recognise the Word behind the words, the Word within the words. This is crucial in their on-going preparation for service in the Church which would be continued under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
After referring to prophecy about himself, Jesus states "repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name". His own preaching began with the call to repentance. Now he emphatically directs the Church to uphold repentance and forgiveness as the foremost priority. It is critical therefore that we remember what these mean in his teaching if they are to hold a proper place in ours.
Our word comes from a Latin term meaning "to grow wise again". This was based on the Greek idea of the word, meaning "to understand after". Thus in the New Testament to repent means that after having the Word preached, a person is led to understand that the way they were walking was leading to destruction and not true fulfilment and to continue would be madness. It was also understood that it was the mercy of God which brought a person to this turn-around of heart, and therefore to a change of conduct. In the process the person experiences deep sorrow and anguish at sinning against God. The true penitent therefore has that sorrow whereby they forsake sin not only because it is ruinous to self but also offensive to God.
This is often translated in older Bibles as "remission" or "pardon". It means the letting go of sins as if they had not been committed. It includes the idea of setting free and cancelling any debt or punishment.
Jesus directs that this message is for any person anywhere who will listen. And, it must begin to be preached in Jerusalem. From there the word will go forth in accordance with the Scriptures and it will be his disciples who do the preaching! Jerusalem is the place of the Temple: the habitation of God. From there his mercy will go forth. Jerusalem is also the dwelling place of the enemies of Jesus. It is there that pardon will first be exercised.
Verse 48 and 49
Nearing the end of his instruction, Jesus declares, "You are witnesses to these things" meaning "You will give testimony about these things". The word "witnesses" is another key idea about the service Jesus calls us to. What does it mean?
The word actually comes through Greek from Sanskrit and means those who remember and can give information because they have experienced it and can therefore speak with authority.
Thus, in Jesus' mind, what we are to give testimony about, in particular, Gods mercy and forgiveness and repentance of sin, must be firmly bedded in our own life or there will be no power, no effectiveness in our preaching. Personal spiritual wholeness is therefore an integral component of preaching the Gospel.
What "things" are his disciples witnesses of? Not only his suffering, death, and resurrection. But also the fact that he:
If these are steadily and honestly proclaimed, God will bless the work, and the Church will continue in good form.
Jesus' final message before his blessing at the Ascension are the wonderful words, "I am going to send you what my Father has promised" (John 15: 26. See also Acts 1: 4 and 2: 33). The "Spirit of Promise" is keenly awaited and yearned for by those who long to carry out what the Lord has commanded. Let it be our constant prayer, that the Spirit will open our minds that we too might be "witnesses" of Jesus Messiah.
Conclusion: The Story Retold
Two of Jesus' disciples had a very powerful experience on Easter Sunday evening. As they were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Jesus revealed himself to them in a way that (in their words) made their hearts "burn" within them. They returned at once to Jerusalem and told the eleven and others about it. Our passage begins while they are still talking about it.
Again, out of the blue, in walks Jesus who greets them all in the usual manner: "Shalom" (peace). It is a special occasion, as it is his last self-manifestation before the Ascension. Great fear overtakes them all, but Jesus is quick to draw it out of them. They think they are scared by a ghost. Jesus knows it is something deeper. "Why are you covering up unspoken thoughts?" he says to them, as much as to imply, "Come on. Out with it". And then in the same breath he insists they rub his scarred hands with their fingers. It has always been his custom to make great demands of people, and then use very earthy, human ways of helping them to reach their potential.
You can almost see him lift his nose and hear him say "Something smells good!" Can I have a piece of that fish on the barbeque? They jump at the chance to give him something to eat, and probably watch every bite Jesus takes, with their own mouths wide open. Then he gets down to his own business. "Look, many a time I told you during my teaching days, that everything written in sacred scripture about me must be fulfilled."
Without any further ado Jesus brings them to the threshold of a whole new era. St. Luke simply records it in the words: "He opened their minds, so they could understand the Scriptures". All their knowledge was not enough to see in an interior way, that he was the One to whom the Scriptures pointed. Only when they could see that, would they understand that he himself was the Word of God; he was the Word behind the words. When Jesus "opened their minds" they experienced a whole new richness, a new spiritual enrichment, unlike anything else.
Things are happening fast in this dialogue. There is another immediate change. The disciples become aware of this new ability to hear Jesus speak to them on a higher level. He moves on without delay to his final proclamation (V 46 — 47). "the messiah", he says, will suffer and rise from the dead on the 3rd day."
Those who would accept his invitation to carry on his work would now be able to attend to his first priority: preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins, just as he had done, following in the footsteps of the man he admired above all others — John the Baptiser.
Repentance in this context refers to genuine sorrow for offences which arises in the heart when one comes to understand what the Word of God teaches.
Forgiveness, here, means the total wiping out: wiping the board clean.
"What these are and mean", says Jesus, "must be taught in my name to people in all the nations: but it must start in Jerusalem." He seems to imply that he has forgiven all that has been done to him there, and the infant Church must do likewise. Otherwise it will go on bearing grudges and this will weaken the message.
(Is there still a problem in this matter today?)
To cap all of this, he calls the disciples his "witnesses": people who can speak with authority because they have experienced themselves what Jesus requires and now can help others. Jesus closes the visit by assuring them that he will send the Spirit promised by God. "Just be patient" is his parting shot.
How Does This Help Us Understand
The approach of the Community of Affirmation is, in the Benedictine Tradition, based on Lectio Divina. This approach encourages us to read Scripture reflectively, pausing to gaze, to ponder, to listen, to be present, to feed spiritually.
When we do this, we can experience, as did the first disciples, the gift of our minds being opened. Then we see not only the prophecies which pointed to the Messiah, but also the Messiah who was pointed out by the prophecies. Or as we often put it, we hear the Word behind the words. (John 1: 1 — 5)
Our passage for reflection demonstrates this superbly. But it is so compact and moves so rapidly, unless we contemplate it, its spiritual nourishment will be left untouched. Sadly, this practice of reflection is rapidly disappearing from much of Christianity. (Some Christians have never done it at all).
The experience of the two disciples on the seven-mile hike from Jerusalem to Emmaus can be ours. Our hearts, too, can burn within us as Jesus, through the gift of the Holy spirit, gives us understanding; inner hearing and seeing. That is the purpose for which he repeats the Emmaus experience for the Apostles together with other followers, and extends that privilege to all who wish to be true disciples.
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