Time for a Kingdom Fish Dinner—Lectionary Reflection for Easter 3B (Luke 24)

Luke 24:36-49 New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 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.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 Yet for all their joy they were still disbelieving and wondering, and he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to 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.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 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 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised, so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”


                Eastertide invites us to ponder Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Each of the four Gospels tells a different story, with Mark leaving us hanging. We have an empty tomb, a heavenly messenger, and women who run from the tomb (Mark 16). The other three Gospels report different appearances, some in Jerusalem and others in Galilee. Luke tells us about the discovery of the empty tomb, first by the women including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women. They encounter two men who deliver the news that Jesus has risen from the dead. They told the eleven Apostles, who didn’t believe their story, though Peter ran to the tomb to check things out (Lk 24:1-12). Then comes the famous appearance of Jesus to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. These disciples who recognize the risen Jesus in the breaking of bread report their experience to the rest of the group, confirming the story of the women (Lk 24:13-35). All of these reports and experiences lead to Jesus’ appearance to the main body of disciples (Lk 24:36-49). The first story is, of course, an expansion of Mark 16:1-8. All of these stories take place in and around Jerusalem, with no visit to Galilee.

                Our story picks up from the report to the disciples about the Emmaus Road experience. While the community is discussing this report, Jesus appears in their midst. He greets them, saying: “Peace be with you.” That the community is still trying to make sense of these reports of Jesus’ resurrection is revealed by the response of the community. Luke tells us that they were “startled and terrified.” So, we might want to read Jesus’ greeting as a warning: “Don’t be afraid.” It’s the kind of greeting that angels often give when making an appearance. This fear they exhibit at seeing Jesus appear in their midst is a reflection of their concern that this figure might be a ghost. If we chapter twenty-four of Luke sequentially, despite the witness of the women and the two disciples who had headed off to Emmaus, the community as a whole wasn’t ready or willing to embrace the idea of the resurrection. As Jonathan Walton points out, their response “suggests that the disciples misunderstood the resurrection. A phantasmic apparition is different from bodily resurrection. Luke sought to make clear for early followers that Jesus’ appearance was the latter and not the former” [Connections, p. 230]. 

                The community’s response to Jesus’ presence in Luke’s gospel should serve as a tonic to the continued tarring of Thomas with the moniker “Doubting Thomas.” They all had doubts, especially the men! They struggle to make sense of what they see and hear, which leads them, here in Luke to wonder if this figure might actually be a ghost. Jesus responds to their fears by asking them: “Do you have anything to eat?” The disciples respond to his request with a plate of broiled fish. This should answer their question as to whether Jesus is a ghost. After all, do ghosts eat? You wouldn’t expect a ghost to eat something. The Gospel of John also features a meal. In chapter 21, Jesus appears to seven of the disciples, including Peter, who have gone back to fishing. Jesus invited Peter to bring him some of the fish he caught after Jesus gave him some pointers, and they had breakfast. So two Gospels feature the post-resurrection Jesus having a fish dinner (John 21:1-14).  

That Luke tells resurrection stories that include bread (Emmaus) and fish (our reading) is a reminder that these two elements play important roles in the gospel stories. Both are present in the story of the feeding of the 5000. In Luke’s version of the story, Jesus took what was available and had everyone sit down. Then, “taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.  And all ate and were filled, and what was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces” (Lk 9:10-17). With both elements present in these stories, we might ponder what this means.

As the community eats their fish dinner, Jesus moves into a teaching mode. He reminded them what he had told them before his death and resurrection, including what the prophets and psalms said about him. We see here something similar to what happens on the road to Emmaus. Opening up the scriptures to them, he let them know that the Scriptures demonstrated that the Messiah would suffer and then rise from the dead on the third day. After that, Jesus told them that a message of repentance and forgiveness would be proclaimed.

The stories of the resurrection are difficult to digest because there isn’t “scientific proof” available to us. We might have historical evidence, especially since Paul wrote of the resurrection in his letters some twenty years after Jesus’ earthly presence. Jesus’ earliest followers were still living and could verify the message. Nevertheless, many modern Christians look for non-material answers to the question of the resurrection. Maybe it’s a metaphor or something spiritual but surely it’s not material. The Gospel stories however are rather earthy. There is a physicality to Jesus’ person, though he appears and disappears at will. Paul suggests that the resurrection body, both Jesus and ours, is a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44).  Still, Jesus eats the fish. Thomas Long writes that “The New Testament accounts of postresurrection appearances testify to a risen Christ who is embodied, but in a body both continuous and discontinuous with his ‘earthly body.’” I appreciate that distinction of a body that is continuous and discontinuous, as Jesus has a physical body that can be touched and can eat food but appears and disappears at will. Thus, “The risen Jesus is embodied, by his body is different, a glorified body, an eschatological body, an eternal body appearing in temporality” [Connections, p. 232].  In the second century, we see a strong reaction to gnostic stories where Jesus only appears before and after the resurrection to have a physical body. The Gospel writings make it clear that Jesus retains a human body in his resurrection. In John 20, Jesus appears to his disciples showing them the wounds in his hands and side (he does the same for Thomas).

During the first two Sundays of Eastertide, we read resurrection stories from the Gospels. We’ve already had the story of Jesus’ appearances to the disciples minus Thomas and then a week later to Thomas (Jn. 20:19-31). Now we have Luke’s version. While these stories emphasize the material nature of the resurrection appearances, we can’t see and touch the resurrection body. We have testimonies, but as David Hume made clear in the late eighteenth century, resurrections are not a regular occurrence. Ancients didn’t have cameras, so we don’t have a photographic/video record. We can use our imaginations to ponder what all of this looks like, but we’re still limited to testimonies. Each of us must make our own decisions on this matter. I choose to believe in a physical/material resurrection. It seems to make the most sense of the disciples’ decision to follow a man who had been crucified by Rome. If there’s no resurrection then Jesus is dead and still lying in his grave, which would make him a real “loser.” So, why follow him if he tried his best, got killed, and that’s it? That is the question.

In Luke’s telling of the story of this resurrection appearance, Jesus gives a commission that will be repeated with slightly different wording in Acts 1:8. Jesus told the disciples they were to proclaim repentance and forgiveness to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. They are to be Christ’s witnesses. Thus, in Luke’s version of the story, Jesus tells the disciples: “I am sending upon you what my Father promised, so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49).

They have the promise and the commission, what they still needed was the power from on high. In other words, they must wait for Pentecost Sunday. When it comes to our observance, liturgically Pentecost is in front of us, but the promise is already in effect. We have been given that which had been promised. We don’t have to wait. We can simply get on with the work of bearing witness to the resurrection. As Thomas Long concludes: “There is hope when someone can bear witness to the truth, and the disciples are sent to bear witness to the best truth of all: Christ is risen, forgiveness is offered, hope is everywhere” [Connections, p. 233]. That is good news.   



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