Back to Blog
ARE YOU SURE?
Third Sunday of Easter B
Have your ever doubted yourself, your partner, your best friend? What kind of assurance is required to eliminate our uncertainties? Do we make up stories to affirm what we would like to believe even though it may not be true?
The day on which Jesus was raised from the dead was a confusing and frightening time for his loved ones and followers. The tomb was mysteriously empty. What happened to this enigmatic and charismatic prophet, the One the Jews thought would surely save Israel? What did they imagine? What did they do?
The gospels record twelve different post-resurrection appearances but are at variance regarding who experienced Jesus after his crucifixion, where and when. Today’s gospel (Luke 24:35-48) features a well-known and dramatic text. Two disciples did not recognize the stranger who walked with them to Emmaus-Nicopolis, about eighteen miles from Jerusalem. 
All the gospels try to depict what the risen Christ may have looked like after being raised from the dead. They seem to suggest that Jesus was transformed and therefore unrecognizable.
The passage tells us the disciples at Emmaus finally came to know the risen One in the “breaking of bread.” After all, a ghost would not be able to eat and drink with them. Were they absolutely sure it was Jesus? Were they experiencing an alternate reality? Or, as the popular author James Martin suggests, were the disciples exchanging “shared memories?”
Scripture scholar John Pilch and others note that such experiences — imagining things happening when they really are not — were common in the Mediterranean world.  Today, especially in the Western Hemisphere, those who experience alternate realities are considered out of touch with the real world. Their claims are difficult to accept.
However, studies in neuroscience suggest that “we all create our own concept of reality … we tell stories to resolve any cognitive dissonance.” If we believe in the Easter stories how are they relevant today? According to ethicist and theologian Jennifer M. McBride  we are pressed “to give an honest account of whether or not we believe the testimonies of the women and men” in the resurrection stories. The women who went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus found it empty. Peter and the other male disciples did not believe the women. The disciples at Emmaus did not believe Jesus was raised from the dead until they ate with him. How could they be sure?
We will never know if the disciples really met the risen Christ or if they were having an alternate reality experience. What we do know is that years before the formulation of creeds or doctrines the post resurrection believers were assured the presence of Christ was burning within them (Luke 24:32).
Inspired by Jesus’ transformation these very early leaders themselves were changed. They put their fears aside and set out slowly to spread the “good news” to others regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or religion. Do we share that same assurance, that burning desire? What actions do we take?
Do we recognize and believe those who want us to listen to their stories today? What wisdom and practical advice can we offer? How do we help them move forward with their lives?
David Brooks wrote last week: “Wise people don’t tell us what to do, they start by witnessing our story. They take the anecdotes, rationalizations and episodes we tell, and see us in a noble struggle.” Our mission, then, is to first listen to the stories of others to understand what they are going through. Then, and only then, can we be helpful to them.
Do the mothers of Black children have the assurance that we really understand that their sons and daughters are in harm’s way because of the color of their skin? How do we prove to them that we are listening and willing to protest racist brutalities?
Do prisoners confined in our public and private correctional institutions have the assurance that we understand their plight? How do we prove that we support them and will rally against their detestable conditions?
Do the thousands of children in these United States who are hungry, homeless, and victimized by the sex trade have the assurance that we are even aware of their dire situation? How do we prove to them we can offer them sustenance and shelter?
Whatever our interpretation of the post-resurrection stories is do we have the assurance that the risen Christ abides deep within us today? What Spirit-filled energy do we use to show others that the One raised up walks with us not as a stranger but as one who works through us to protect and preserve the dignity of every person.
1. There were several towns named Emmaus at the time. Most scholars agree Emmaus-Nicopolis was the village mentioned in the gospel.
2. Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus: Sunday by Sunday Cycle C (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1997) 67.
3. McBride, Jennifer. Radical Discipleship: A Liturgical Politics of the Gospel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 188-89.