Opened Minds and Hearts
On the day of his crucifixion, Jesus prayed: “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34]. I preached this word on Good Friday, and in that brief sermonic reflection I asked the question: Is it true that they/we act in ignorance? Or, perhaps we could say that even when we act knowingly, we often don’t truly understand the ramifications of our decisions and our actions. Whether we act in ignorance or not, Jesus offers us a word of forgiveness that allows us to restart our lives. Forgiveness enables boldness, especially if that boldness is expressed in bearing witness to the transforming presence of God, revealed to us in the Risen Christ.
It is now the Third Sunday of Easter. As the days go by, we may lose sight of the events of that Holy Week that led from cross to tomb to resurrection; from death to life. The lectionary, however, continues to return to the basic message of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances and how these appearances – however you choose to understand them -- transformed the lives of those Jesus called to be disciples and witnesses, bearing with them a message of forgiveness.
In the texts for this Third Sunday, we’re assured that what was done ignorance, God has transformed for the good of all. It is, in these readings, an embodied message, even if that body carries with it scars that remind us of our complicity in acts of violence. Luke doesn’t directly mention the wounds, but I find myself importing John’s account, knowing that he has been wounded for our transgressions – or by our transgressions – but in the end there is healing for humanity. The question is, are we able to understand and embrace this truth?
It seems appropriate to begin our conversation with the reading from the Gospel of Luke. The reading Acts is, after all, a continuation of the story that begins in Luke. Our Gospel reading, which follows directly after the Emmaus Road encounter, stops just short of the Ascension story, thus it’s the penultimate moment, when the commission is given, but the moment of leaving is yet to come.
As we begin reading, Jesus is making his appearance to apparently terrified followers, who think he’s a ghost. Who wouldn’t – the doors are locked and the windows closed (they’re in hiding), and yet he appears suddenly. Now there are reports that the tomb is empty and that Jesus may have revealed himself to two disciples who had been traveling the road to Emmaus (wherever that is). Still they’re not prepared for this. They don’t have categories – except ghost stories – to explain this phenomenon. Of course, neither do we. The events described here parallel the account given in John, which we considered a week earlier, except Thomas isn’t a lead character. There is doubt expressed, but it’s not placed on the back of just this one disciple (John 20:19-31). Interesting, as in John, Jesus greets them with the words: “Peace be with you!” He also shows them his hands and feet, though we’re not told if there are wounds to see and touch. Apparently they remain unconvinced, or at least confused, though doubt is expressed in the midst of happiness. Their emotions are mixed – is this a moment of celebration or not? They’re not sure, quite yet, and so to further quell their concerns, Jesus asks for fish. I guess, seeing him eat a fish satisfies their skepticism, since ghosts don’t eat fish.
The presentation of his embodied self leads to an opening of minds to understand a message that is traced back to the Torah, to the Prophets, and to the Psalms, showing that this message must be fulfilled. And what is the message – that Christ will suffer, rise from the dead, and direct that a message of repentance (“change of heart and mind” CEB) and forgiveness be “preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Change and forgiveness is at the heart of this message that is to go out beginning in Jerusalem. The key here is that it is to be done “in his name.” It is by his authority and not their own, that they go. They’ll be witnesses, but they can’t forth without the “heavenly power.” Patience, yes, patience is needed. But when the time comes there will be power. A new age of the Spirit is coming into our midst.
In Acts 3, we hear Peter speak of the power and the name by which he has engaged in healing the man who was unable to walk, the one who asked for silver and gold, but who received the ability to walk instead. Some in the crowd aren’t sure what to think about this, and so Peter makes his defense. He didn’t do this through his own power or piety, but through the power of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who glorified (resurrected) Jesus, whom Peter accuses them of killing. Once again we must keep in mind that the blame gets placed on the Jews, but it is really a cabal of imperial ruler and religious appointees who were entrusted with keeping law and order in place. Faith in “his name,” Jesus’ name is the reason this man walks. The healing is designed to not only provide a new life for the man, but give opportunity for the name to be lifted up before the people. As the message is presented, in line with the earlier commission, a word of forgives is offered, for they “acted in ignorance.” “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” As in Luke, all this has happened, as it was revealed through the prophets. So change your heart and mind, and God will wipe away (forgive) your sins.
Finally we come to this word from 1 John 3. There is a word here about closed eyes. Those who don’t recognize Jesus, fail to recognize those who bear his name, those whom God has called children. The good news here is that that we shall be like him – when he appears. There is for us a transformed identity; one that is pure for Jesus is pure. In this new identity, those who know him will not sin, because he does not sin. We will be like him, but even though we may not be in a perfectly transformed state, and surely that is what John is anticipating, we can begin practicing righteousness. I like that idea, that the one who “practices righteousness is righteous, in the same way that Jesus is righteous.”
The reign of God has broken into the earthly plane. It’s not fully revealed. There is still need for having hearts and minds opened, and sins forgiven. There may be questions to wrestle with, but lives are changing. The realm of God is making itself felt. It may still be little more than a mustard seed, but it’s present. Let us look at ourselves, and recognize in ourselves the need to be transformed, to be opened to the purposes of God, as revealed in Jesus, so that we might bear this message, even as we are transformed by the heavenly power – namely the Holy Spirit.