III Easter, Year A
Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the multitude, "Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified."
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him." And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
1 Peter 1:17-23
If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
That very day, the first day of the week, two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
I suspect Kierkegaard would have loved today’s text from the Gospel of Luke. It is about misrecognition and the grounding of true cognition. Ricouer, I think, would point out the structure of this misrecognition. Both would have observed the alterity (‘otherness’) of Jesus. When Karl Barth was a young pastor, he also wrote about the problem of our misrecognition of God and spoke of God as ‘wholly other than’ the god of our religion.
It is rather astonishing how Jesus is misrecognized today. Luke’s gospel gives us an important clue as to why this misrecognition occurs and also shows us the means by which true recognition takes place.
It is a simple story in its basics. Two men are walking home. Their lives have been turned upside down over the death of a friend. More so, they have heard bizarre tales being told about him. They can’t figure it out. Along the way they meet a stranger who inquires about their conversation and who subsequently puts everything into perspective, first through his interpretation of Scripture, then through a idiom of personal action. Suddenly, everything is clear.
First let’s discuss the phenomenon of misrecognition as it occurs christologically. The two men have a fundamental belief they express ”but we had hoped he (Jesus) was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” It is plain to see that a certain expectation was held here. Jesus was hoped to be the mighty go’el, the redeemer of God. There was a certain ‘otherness’ to the person and work of Jesus, so much so that it could only be contexted in the light of the end where this ‘otherness’ was the stuff of the new beginning, the eschatological age to come. All of this was viewed through the lens of a ‘promissory history’ (Moltmann), a history of the people who belonged to this ‘other God.’ In short, Jesus was perceived through the specific lens of apocalyptic, literature that had an emphasis on the end.
We do not need to pidgeonhole these ‘messianic beliefs’ into disparate and discrete systems, son of man, second adam, Christ, the prophet, etc. Most important was what had occurred in ancient Jewish messianism with the formulation of a view of Messiah as a political redeemer who achieved victory through the use of force/power. The people were not wrong to have such high expectations of Jesus. Where he disappointed them was precisely in his inability or unwillingness to defend himself, to achieve victory with shock and awe. He let himself get killed. Fool. God’s emissary would never let that happen. God is all powerful, so also would his agent be. It did not occur to Jesus’ followers that he would choose to not use this potential power in his own defense or in retribution.
Jesus’ vulnerability is the veil behind which God hides. Jesus’ openness to love and forgive is the camouflage of the heart of God. If we are going to talk about a hidden God in Christianity (dues absconditus), then let us acknowledge that this God is benevolent in every way, This is the One in whom there is ‘no shadow of turning.’ Jesus is misrecognized because we do not see that suffering is not just an experience, it is a hermeneutic. When we do not understand that ‘the Christ must suffer’, when we are afraid to speak of God who suffers with us in love, when we refuse to suffer and most especially when we ignore the suffering of others, we remain blind, unable to see God at work.
This blindness, this inability to recognize will not only be talked about, it will be demonstrated from pulpits everywhere when this Sunday some preachers will focus on Jesus’ use of Scripture and conclude he was justifying a theory of inspiration that they then can twist and distort into silly putty gods. A god like every other god, a god that is not truly different, truly distinguished, truly Holy. They will still preach a god of power and might, a god above time, space and humanity. A god above matter, a truly Gnostic divinity, a god who does not, cannot and will not suffer. No, their god, their Christ comes with power, force, death, and vengeance.
Not so, Jesus says. It is the suffering Christ, the suffering God by which Scripture is to be interpreted. This is the emphasis Jesus gives to the biblical text. Do otherwise and you will be walking along a road full of questions (which is what most do and why most are where they are). Jesus gives the perspective of the suffering victim. Jesus addressed death.
Death is the one reality we all face, it is the one reality from which we run our fastest. At our healthiest, we do not choose to suffer, nor to be abandoned, alienated, hated, mocked, insulted and murdered. Yet we constantly inflict all of this on others when we non-consciously engage in scapegoating others, blaming others. This is our human dilemma. It is the place in which we are blinder than bats. It is the place from which our collective self deception originates. Because we refuse to acknowledge that we victimize others, in thought, word and deed we fail to see that we too would victimize Jesus were he here today? How so?
Matthew’s gospel gives us a strategic clue. It is found in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. It is the final element of the pre-Matthean passion narrative. It says that Jesus is to be recognized in our scapegoats. Yours, mine, ours. This tendency we have toward the pulsating heart of violent death, to make our life better by getting rid of others is true of virtually everybody, it is the virus infecting humanity. We are oriented to death and we are in denial about it because we are the cause of death. We are in service to death, we obey its every command.
Jesus comes to us to help us see that until we hear with this hermeneutic from below, until we see from this theology of the Cross, we will continue to misrecognize and thus misrepresent both Jesus and the One he knew as his Daddy.
However, when we do acknowledge that the perspective which reveals is the perspective of the innocent forgiving victim, a true miracle occurs. Luke tells us that Jesus went on with these men and ended up planning to stay with them. At the meal the four fold action, take-bless-break-give, the Eucharistic action (Dom Gregory Dix), the action of the feeding of the masses (Fuchs), this four fold action opens their eyes to see and their ears to hear and they recognize that even in their state of misrecognition they had a huge desire to believe that his interpretation was true, ‘their hearts burned.’ This four fold action is the paradigm of Jesus’ life, the way he would have us interpret his life. It is his life that God chooses to take, bless, break and give. This self-giving of the Parent of the universe, for us humans and our salvation, ought to just astonish us.
True cognition of Jesus takes place when we as a Christian community gather round our sacred victim and acknowledge what we are doing, the symbolic ritual activity of mob cannibalism. This is the Eucharist. This is where, even as we re-enact the murder of Jesus, we are told we are forgiven. If we would do this to Jesus, we would certainly do it to others. And we do, and knowing this, we can also choose to no longer participate in processes that lead to death. We become aware that we are the Forgiven Ones. We have come under the reign of Life. We become the Forgiving Ones. And this is the joy of Eastertide. “It is true, the Lord is risen and has appeared to Simon.”
No comments today.
We Christians are the most joyous of all people, for we know that Jesus is risen, God has not abandoned us, neither as a species nor as individuals. The fact is, even in our sin, we are included in God’s good process of creation, an on going activity that will one day culminate. And indeed the judgment of our God will be, as it was in the beginning, that it is all ‘very, very good.’
We stand forgiven. Before God, before the universe, before every animal, mineral or vegetable, before each other, we stand forgiven. God has brought all under judgment in order that God might have mercy upon all. Breaking bread together, forgiving each other, practicing peace and peace making with one another teaches us how to live in and with the world. Without our Eucharist, apart from our gratitude we are lost. But with joy and gratitude for God’s grace, our Eucharist is a celebration of Jesus opening our eyes to see (our victimizing), our ears to hear (the cries of the suffering), and the turning of hearts of stone to caring and compassion. We can live now as we will live then.