Open Eyes, Open Minds, Open Lives — Saturday Sermon from the Sidelines

Luke 24:36b-49

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).

For years, the Christian Century magazine had a feature called “How My Mind Has Changed.” The section offered columns by theologians, scholars, church leaders, and public figures. In each of these columns, the writer offered a retrospective look at their thought, work, and action. They described what the title announced – how their minds had changed.

I found that feature enlightening and encouraging.

It was enlightening because I found it useful to watch as powerful minds continued to learn and grow. Sometimes the change of mind was quite pronounced – not quite a hundred and eighty degree turn but close.

It was encouraging because I heard that it was neither possible nor necessary to get it all right from the beginning. And even more important to me, there was always more to learn and always a new way to see.

At one time, having a changed mind was regarded as a good thing.

But not these days.

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These days, mind-changing is automatically derided as “flip-flopping.” Public leaders who change their views, perspectives, or behaviors on an issue are accused of going whichever way the wind blows. They are guilty of pandering to opinion, of caving in to political correctness, of just wanting to be liked instead of remaining committed to the “truth.”

“Leaders who change their minds, or change the course of proposed action are often derided as flip-floppers,” writes Samuel Bacharach.  “To be honest,” he continues, “’flip-flopper’ is the king of political insults. Calling someone a flip-flopper is supposed to signal that the intended victim has lost their principles and is somehow untrustworthy.”[i]

In his article, Bacharach lists five ways for leaders to “keep your credibility while changing your mind.”

You can say that your thinking has “evolved.” You can express care for the doubters and assure them that abandoning your position is not the same as abandoning them. You can say that the change is only superficial or that it was forced on you by necessity. Or you can just acknowledge the discomfort of others, say supportive things, and move forward anyway.

Just make sure that it looks like you know what you’re doing (my words, not his).

Luke 24 is littered with the remains of secure assumptions and safe certainties. All the things the disciples thought they knew were of no use to them after Jesus’ Resurrection.

When they met the risen Jesus, they were challenged and changed.

Their thinking didn’t evolve. Jesus didn’t soften the blow with gentle words. He didn’t suggest that the Resurrection required a few minor adjustments in their perspectives. The challenges and changes he brought were necessary because they are part of God’s agenda, not because circumstances forced them upon Jesus. Jesus was not looking for support or buy-in from the disciples.

He opened their eyes. He opened their minds. He opened their lives to the Life that is truly Life.

That’s how the Gospel works. It buries our old world of safe certainties and settled truths. Out of that tomb, Jesus calls us to open our eyes, open our minds and open our lives to the Life and Love that death and hate cannot overcome.

Jesus changes my mind. And that’s the Good News!

If I meet Jesus and remain unchallenged and unchanged, then I missed the appointment. I can meet Jesus in the Sacrament of the Table. I can meet Jesus in the words and witness of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. These are not the only places I can meet Jesus. But these are the places where Luke focuses our attention in his post-resurrection reports.

Here is one of the promises of Resurrection in our midst here and now. Jesus meets us where we are. He opens our eyes to that meeting as he feeds us with his very life. He opens our minds to God’s longing to give Life to all as we meet him in the Scriptures. I am not stuck with the tired truisms of my tentative past.

Jesus changes my mind. And that’s the Good News!

I have been a life-long pessimist about mind-changing. Given my experiences in life and with the Gospel, that pessimism is misplaced, mistaken, and merely misanthropic. I protect myself from the risk of rejection if and when people might disagree with me. I have missed lots of life because of this self-defense. I am always having to repent of this pessimism (which too often descends into faithless cynicism, I confess).

In fact, I’m a Christian and a pastor because the Gospel of Jesus Christ changes minds. The Gospel of Jesus Christ changed and continues to change my mind about the nature of life and hope in this cosmos.

That’s another story, but that’s how it goes for me. Sometimes I forget that, and others have to remind me. But I am the person I am now because the Gospel of Jesus Christ changes my mind and makes me more of the human being God has created me to be.

Jesus changes my mind. And that’s the Good News!

I have witnessed and continue to witness the ways in which Jesus-followers have their minds changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For example, I am part of an anti-racism book study group that has been meeting weekly for the last six months. I don’t know what I hoped for or expected, but what has happened far exceeds anything I might have imagined.

This study has been and continues to be an experience of the Law/Gospel dialectic that Martin Luther described so often and so well. This is one way Jesus changes minds through the Scriptures.

As we read the witness of Ibram X. Kendi, Bryan Stevenson, Ijeoma Oluo, and others, we white folks in the group are convicted by our ignorance and complicity, our apathy and self-delusion, our participation in and support of systemic and institutional racism in this country.

That is hard and necessary work. It is a daily and weekly and lifelong task and process. Our failures drive us to confess our sin to God and to one another as we talk and reflect, as we learn and grow.

That’s what the Law is supposed to do to us. There’s no merit or credit here for “getting it.” Left to our own devices, we wouldn’t get it at all. Yet change happens through our work together.

Jesus changes my mind. And that’s the Good News!

Every week we also share some small measure of new life, new understanding, new behavior, and new commitments. It’s slow going, and we will spend our lifetimes on this anti-racist journey.

But the call of the Gospel has opened our eyes a bit to the past and present realities of racism in our lives, our communities, and our country. And the call of the Gospel has opened our minds to hear the witness of those who suffer and to embrace an understanding of life from the perspective of the persecuted rather than that of the privileged.

Even though this is the work of repentance, it is often joyful work. The Greek word for “repentance” means a change of mind. It’s not a change from one human perspective to another.

Instead, we are called to have the mind of Christ in and among ourselves. “Do not be conformed to this world,” Paul writes in Romans 12:2, “but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” That change is not a burden but rather a gift of abundant life.

Jesus changes my mind. And that’s the Good News!

I have always heard that normal church people avoid Bible studies because they are sure they don’t know enough. They are afraid they will be embarrassed by this lack of knowledge in the presence of people who know the Bible through and through.

I know people have these anxieties, but I think they cover a deeper fear. I think people understand that meeting Jesus challenges and changes us. And they aren’t willing to risk that.

I also know that many people in and out of churches do take that chance. In taking that chance, they meet Jesus. They are challenged and changed. And the change is often for the better.

I empathize with those who avoid the inevitable encounters with Jesus in the Scriptures. Blissful ignorance is good work if you can get it. The encounter with Jesus not only changes my mind, it changes my path. Once Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to the Good News in Scripture, he sent them out on a mission from God.

Just when things were going so well.

A changed mind is not a reversible reality. I can’t un-know what I know. I can ignore it, or I can act on it. The Holy Spirit, the “power from on high,” moves me to act. I suspect that at some point, for example, knowing what I know is going to put me out in public and at some slight risk. I can’t have a changed mind and an unchanged path. It’s terrifying…in a good way.

Jesus changes my mind. And that’s the Good News! I pray it is for you as well.

[i] Bacharach, Samuel.

Text Study for Luke 24:36b-49 (Pt. 3); 3 Easter B 2021

The Cost of Witness — Luke 24:36b-49

In Luke 24:48, according to the best manuscript evidence, the verb is implied. Literally, the verse reads, “YOU – witnesses of these things.” The emphasis is on the disciples as the particular witnesses best equipped by history, experience, and now training, to give testimony not only to what they have seen but also to what “these things” mean.

“These things” include the scriptural testimony to the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. And “these things” include the proclamation to all nations of the repentance that leads to forgiveness in the name of Jesus. The disciples are thus witnesses not only to the events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth but also to the work of the promised Spirit in and through the mission and ministry of the Church.

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I focus a bit on this in order to examine and complexify the content and nature of this “witness.” The events reported in the gospel accounts are part of this witness. But notice that the witnessing itself is also one of the “events” that make up the revelation contained in this witness. “The Bible offers itself, and has normally been treated by the church,” N. T. Wright suggests, “as part of God’s revelation, not simply a witness or echo of it” (Simply Christian, page 182). Christian witness is not simply a record but is rather an ongoing event and process.

One of the marks of American evangelicalism is a deification of the Christian Bible. Words that would more properly be attached to Jesus have become attached, in militant and even violent ways, to the Christian holy book. People say they “believe in” the Bible. They say they regard the Bible as “infallible” and “inerrant” (neither word appears in the Bible, by the way).

These concerns are relatively recent inventions in Western Christianity. “It is no accident that this Protestant insistence on biblical infallibility arose at the same time,” Wright observes, “that Rome was insisting on papal infallibility, or that the rationalism of the Enlightenment infected even those who were battling against it” Simply Christian, page 183). Isolating the written text of the Christian Bible (and particularly that of the King James translation) as what Luther called a “paper pope” is not an historic theological position. Rather it is in response to modern cultural and political concerns and agendas.

“The Bible is there to enable God’s people to be equipped to do God’s work in God’s world,” Wright reminds us, “not to give them an excuse to sit back smugly, knowing they possess all God’s truth” (Simply Christian, page 184). Part of our witness is the proclamation of the Good News that leads to repentance in the name of Jesus. I would suggest that such repentance must always begin with the proclaimers.

Our first task as witnesses is to understand that we serve the proclamation. The proclamation does not serve us, our interests, or our concerns. It is far more likely that both the content of the proclamation and the act of proclaiming will challenge us to change in ways we will find deeply disorienting and uncomfortable. We are not at the heart of Christian scripture. Jesus is.

“It is impossible for Christ-followers to understand the Hebrew Scriptures apart from Jesus’ life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection,” Jacob Meyers writes in his commentary. “This does not mean that Christians have a monopoly of biblical hermeneutics, but that a properly Christian hermeneutic demands a Christocentric horizon of interpretation.” When we read Scripture and when we proclaim the Good News, we are first called to hear the voice of Jesus, opening our minds to what is really being said.

Jesus addresses contemporary Christians in this text as well: “YOU – witnesses of these things!” Now we must exercise some care. How easy it is for “witness” to become colonization and for colonization to become violence. The history of the Western church (at least) is filled with examples of how a particular kind of Christian witness has been used to justify African slavery and Indigenous genocide. Witnessing has been and continues to be an act and tool of colonization. Invitation becomes assimilation – or erasure.

There has been a cost associated with Christian witness in the Western world. That cost has not, for the most part, been paid by European Christians. Rather, it has been extracted from the bodies and the land regarded as empty vessels to be filled with the “truth” and exploited for the benefit of the colonizers.

When we assume that the space we enter is uninhabited and ours for the taking, that’s colonizing. When that space is inhabited by people and filled with meaning, the result is cultural erasure and genocide. We can pretend a land is empty and “discover” it. But, as Mark Charles insists, “You cannot discover lands already inhabited. That process is known as stealing, conquering, or colonizing” (page 14).

Much of our “witness history” as American Christians has been stealing, conquering, and colonizing. Kaitlin Curtice labels this sort of Christianity as “settler colonial Christianity.” The proclamation of the gospel becomes a tool for white cultural triumph and domination. “Settler colonial Christianity puts itself at the center of everything as the sole power,” she writes in her book, Native, “and evangelism becomes a tool used to erase other cultures and religions from the people whom Christians are meant to serve” (page 35).

I have not even touched the ways in which Christian “witness” was used to serve the interests of slaveholding whites on this continent. That really deserves a post all its own. In short, the purpose of that witness, as was often publicly stated and written, was to pacify the enslaved converts and to use Christianity as a means of enforcing docility in the face of the horrors of the American enslavement system.

“It seems to me someone needs to write a book on decolonizing evangelism,” Bishop Michael Rinehart noted a few years ago. “In the context of the Americas, evangelization has a history of being a forced reality of colonization. It was considered enculturating and civilizing the natives. We all too easily treat others as objects for conversion, or people to be assimilated into our unchanging religious institutions,” he concludes, “rather than as fellow-travelers on the journey of life, in need of grace, love, hope.” 

Jesus commissions the church to witness from a place of powerlessness and vulnerability. If there was a cost associated with that witnessing, it was to be paid by the witnesses themselves. Luke’s story of that witness, what we call the Acts of the Apostles, is filled with early Christians paying that cost over and over. We read stories of death, imprisonment, beatings, shipwrecks, public recrimination, rejection, and ridicule. Early Christians were in no position to threaten anyone with their cultural and political power. Therefore, their witness was not a threat.

We American Christians are in a far different position. I understand that certain American Christians are sure they are part of a persecuted minority. From an evidence-based perspective, that’s false. We American Christians have been able to impose, through various violent methods, our views on others for centuries. Now that this position of power has been de-stabilized, panic is setting in. Loss of privilege always feels like loss, but that doesn’t change the fact that we have been and are still privileged and powerful in this society.

Contemporary witness, for white American Christians, therefore, must be much more listening than speaking. It must be much more learning than teaching. It must be much more following than leading. Sometimes this is framed as listening to and learning from “the margins.” While I appreciate that sentiment, I find that this is the first concept that has to die in my frame of reference. My white, male, supremacist theology is not the “center” of anything. Other voices may be marginalized by the current domination system, but we are all centered in God’s system of life.

This is why I find it so helpful to see that listening, learning, and following are part of the “these things” in Luke’s text. Listening, learning, and following are witnessing activities for those of us who need to do them. They are part of the work of repentance – getting a “different mind,” a new worldview where the risen and ascended Jesus is Lord and Messiah. The cost of witnessing, to me, is the sacrifice of a way of thinking and viewing the world that puts me at the center. That’s painful but life-giving.

That’s all well and good from a forty-thousand-foot view. But does it mean anything in practical terms? I think it does. Every church I’ve served has described itself as a “welcoming” congregation. Of course, that’s not really been true. Others were welcome if they were sufficiently “like” the current members to create a minimal disruption in the existing system of relationships and practices. And others were welcome if they were willing to be assimilated fully to the existing system of relationships and practices.

That’s witness as colonization on a personal scale. I’m not describing any malice aforethought in these congregations. Most of the folks had the best of intentions and genuinely thought they were being hospitable. But we all know that we were inviting people to come on our terms, not theirs. We were, for the most part, not interested in the changes and challenges that new people might bring to our settled (Settler) and comfortable realities. Whether we knew it or not, our welcome included a subtle form of violence that resulted in a certain amount of erasure of the Otherness of the Other.

That’s not welcome. That’s assimilation. Become like us or be gone.

Yet, that has not been the whole story in some of those congregations. In some places, the Other has been viewed as more than either a Bother to be banished or a resource to be exploited. I have been in places where the Other has been regarded as bringing value, meaning, and hope to places where those experiences were in short supply. “Come and make us better” is a superior invitation to “come and be like us.” It’s also a superior witness to the love and life of Christ.

In a few cases, folks have even heard the apostolic part of Jesus’ commission to the first disciples – that we are sent out with the proclamation. Jesus describes this earlier in Luke as he sends the disciples and then the seventy-two missionaries into the field. They carry with them no self-sustaining, self-protecting resources.

They are sent like “sheep among the wolves.” They are thus stripped of any delusions that might make them colonizers. That’s the really scary part. But that’s the vocation described here.

References and Resources

Behr, John . The Mystery of Christ. Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition.

Charles, Mark, and Rah, Soong-Chan. Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery. Downers Grove, ILL.: IVP, 2019.

Curtice, Kaitlin. Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God. Grand Rapids, MI.: Brazos Press, 2020.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Journalen JJ:167 (1843),].

Lose, David (1).

Meyers, Jacob.

Rinehart, Michael.

Vitalis Hoffman, Mark G.

Wright, N. T. Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press.

Wright, N. T. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. New York: HarperOne, 2006.

Text Study for Luke 24:36b-49 (Pt. 2); 3 Easter B 2021

II. We Believe in the Resurrection of the Body

“Grandma, do you have any snacks?” We haven’t heard that question within the walls of our home for a while. We certainly look forward to hearing it again soon. The question indicates several things. First, it means that Grandma and Grandpa put up much less resistance to multiple snack times than Mom and Dad do. Second, it means that growing kids are always hungry, and we try to be well-stocked for such occasions. Third, sitting down for a snack is another time and another way to connect at the most human level with the people we love.

“Do you have anything edible in this place?” Jesus asks the quaking and incredulous disciples. It’s such a human request, such a physical, bodily request. Jesus takes us back to Luke 15:2 – “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” Before we get to the dinner table, however, we need to examine the request in the context of the conversation.

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In his 2018 commentary, Mark Vitalis Hoffman notes that in Luke’s account, Jesus is carrying out the approved test to demonstrate that he is not an apparition, a ghost, or a mere spirit. “Among the ghost tests in antiquity, one could check extremities where bones were evident (namely, hands and feet),” he writes, “make sure that a person’s feet were touching the ground, and show one’s teeth and eat food.”

He notes that this is described explicitly, for example, in Tertullian’s writings against Marcion. Tertullian notes that showing the extremities is a way to demonstrate that the person in question has bones. Eating, similarly, is a way to show that the person in question has teeth. Ancient literature is filled with stories of appearances by ghosts, apparitions, spirits, angels, demons, and other non-corporeal entities. The tests for bodily existence were well-known. Luke includes the results of those tests in his account of the post-resurrection appearances in chapter 24.

Luke, along with the other gospel writers, knows that acceptance of the bodily resurrection of Jesus is one of the great sticking points that keeps people from embracing the Good News of Jesus. I am encouraged to know that this was a problem with the first disciples as well as with current disciples.

I am struck by Jesus’ patience and persistence in dealing with this resistant incredulity. The problem in all the gospel accounts is not a too-easy acceptance of the Resurrection. Rather, the issue is a reluctance to believe either the evidence of their senses or the witness of their colleagues. The first witnesses were more likely to doubt than to believe. That is, perhaps, still the case.

One form of this doubt lives under the cover of a “deeper” faith. That is, some theologians and preachers would suggest that the Resurrection of the body is a metaphor for the deep and abiding experience of Jesus in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. I think we need to push back on that pious skepticism.

“We cannot take these stories [in Luke 24] and transform them, without remainder, into pictures of ongoing Christian experience without doing violence, in every line, to Luke’s manifest intention,” N. T. Wright argues. “Once more, this is not to say that Luke is unaware of the multiple resonances in Christian experience which the stories set up; only that these are resonances which echo out, as far as he is concerned, from the original event itself.” (Wright, Resurrection, page 657).

It’s not the case that stories of the bodily resurrection of Jesus arose as a way to give “flesh” to the real story of a more “spiritual” experience of the risen Lord and Savior. Instead, the process was that the spiritualizing of the resurrection of the body has arisen out of a rejection of the possibility that such an “actual” resurrection took place. The gospel writers, including Luke, are clear in their witness. “Every line, almost every word, in this scene [in Luke 24:36-43] demonstrates the point, “N. T. Wright notes. “For Luke, the risen Jesus is firmly and solidly embodied, able to be touched, able to eat.” (Wright Resurrection, page 657).

Some of us have lived with the Resurrection stories for so long that we have lost the shock and surprise, the wonder and amazement of the message. Or perhaps we have also adjusted the story to fit what is possible in the world as we know it and have thus “spiritualized” the resurrection of the body into a profound, but internal, experience. Can we recapture some of that shock and surprise, wonder and amazement, as we read about the stubborn resistance of the disciples in Luke’s account? They knew that dead people stay dead.

“Here’s my brief take on this vignette from Luke’s larger narrative about the resurrection appearances of Jesus,” David Lose writes, “if you don’t have serious doubts about the Easter story, you’re not paying attention.” Let’s remember where we are in Luke’s narrative. The women have reported the empty tomb, but their male colleagues considered their report “an idle tale.” The risen Jesus has appeared to Peter, although that appearance is referenced without narration. Two disciples spent half a day talking with Jesus (whom they didn’t recognize) and sat down to a meal with him.

These experiences produce nothing more than a confused and animated debate about what it all means. Jesus appears in the middle of them and says, “Hush, children. It’s alright.” At first, Jesus makes things worse, and they shift from confusion to full-on terror. Nothing makes sense any longer. They are stirred up the way a storm troubles the waters of the sea. Competing explanations fill their heads and cloud their hearts. They need an anchor to reality.

“Can we just say it, preachers?” David Lose (1) asks, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt, in fact, is probably a necessary ingredient to faith. Faith, by definition, is trust in spite of a lack of evidence. Faith is not knowledge. Faith is more tension-filled. It is acting as if something is true even when you have no proof that it is.”

I’m not sure, however, that’s all that helpful in this text. What Jesus offers is not some sort of conviction in spite of the lack of evidence. Instead, he offers the disciples the evidence of his resurrected body. Then he opens their minds to a whole new way of seeing and understanding reality that allows for such a thing to happen in their midst. It’s not that they will believe it when they see it. Rather, it’s that they will see it when they believe it. He gives them information that leads to transformation.

This has been the problem throughout Jesus’ life and ministry. It continues to be the problem after the Resurrection. It is our problem now. I’m not with Dr. Lose on this one. It’s not the lack of evidence that’s the problem. It’s the lack of open eyes, open hearts, and open minds to take the evidence that exists. That’s at least as true of disciples “inside” the church as skeptics “outside” the church.

“All of which suggests two things to me for this week’s sermon,” Lose writes. “First, let people know it’s okay to doubt. In fact, let them know that it’s probably a requirement of faith. Because, honestly, in light of all the death and trauma and disappointment and tragedy that colors every human life, if you don’t have at least some difficulty believing the promise that God not only raised one person, Jesus, from the dead, but also promises new life and second chances and forgiveness and grace to all, then you’re probably not paying attention” (David Lose (1).

Indeed, that is true and helpful. “We believe in the resurrection of the body,” most of us confess week in and week out. I’m always glad that it’s “we” who are confessing that trust. Some Sundays I get it and embrace it. Some Sundays (and the rest of the week) I don’t get it or embrace it. When I don’t, I’m glad there’s someone else in the faith community who does. I depend on the solid faith of others when mine is shaky. And I’m glad to be that resource for others when the situation is reversed.

“Second, I would like to ask people how we might live differently if we acted like God’s promises were true,” Lose continues. “So often, I think, these promises are so familiar to us that we hold them far back in our head but don’t actually think about them and so don’t act as if they are true. But if it’s true that God raised Jesus from the dead… If it’s true that God promises to renew the whole creation and grant us new life… If it’s true that nothing – nothing we’ve done or has been done to us – can separate us from the love of God… If it’s true that God will not turn God’s back on any of us but always reaches out to us in grace, mercy, and forgiveness… If any of this – let alone all of this – is true, then how might we live our lives this week differently? How might this faith – not knowledge, but trusting, courageous faith – change how we look at our relationships, and our politics, and our work, and our resources, and our future?”

In this season of Easter, we confess as a church loud and clear that all these things are true. But we don’t root that confession in our own powers of believing. Instead, the Holy Spirit now makes Christ physically present in us by faith. We, too, are disciples who are confronted by the evidence, the testimony of witnesses, and the living presence of Jesus among us. Jesus opens our eyes in the breaking of the bread and our minds in the proclamation of God’s Word in our midst. Our hearts burn with recognition, and our vocation is to share that news with others.

Next time, more on worship and witness as the Body of Christ.

References and Resources

Behr, John . The Mystery of Christ. Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Journalen JJ:167 (1843),].

Lose, David (1).

Vitalis Hoffman, Mark G.

Wright, N. T. Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press.

Sermon Text Study for Luke 24:36b-48; 3 Easter B 2021

Luke 24:36b-48

I. Life in the Rearview

“It is really true what philosophy tells us, that life must be understood backwards” wrote Soren Kierkegaard. “But with this, one forgets the second proposition, that it must be lived forwards.” This proposition can help us reflect on the reports of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in the canonical gospels. In several of those accounts, Jesus “opens the scriptures” and describes to the disciples, and to us, how the suffering and death of the Messiah were “necessary.”

In Luke’s report there seems to be at least a mild rebuke of the disciples on the road to Emmaus for not “getting it” by themselves since they were “foolish” and “slow of heart.” That strikes me as a bit harsh. But after the small critique, Jesus then walks then through the Hebrew scriptures to note how they pointed to him.


He “interpreted” the scriptures. The verb Luke uses is a form of the Greek word from which we get “hermeneutics,” which is, according to the dictionary, “the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts.” In fact, even for the first disciples, there is no unvarnished encounter with the written text. Rather, Christian scripture is always interpreted, first, by Jesus, and then later, through Jesus. Jesus is the interpretive “lens” through which we read any text we dare to call Christian scripture.

Kierkegaard is talking about how we interpret our lives. He knows that we always make our interpretation from our current position. We live life forward and understand it in the rearview mirror. But, he acknowledges, that’s really a sort of useful fiction. His observation, he notes, is “A proposition which, the more it is subjected to careful thought, the more it ends up concluding precisely that life at any given moment cannot really ever be fully understood; exactly because there is no single moment where time stops completely in order for me to take position [to do this]: going backwards.”

As we remember events in our lives, we don’t pass through our experiences since those events and then travel back in time better informed and wiser in our interpretation. Instead, we look through our experiences since those events and bring them forward as part of our experience here and now.

Our memories are not written on some hard drive in the recesses of our brains to be accessed unaltered when we retrieve them. No, every time we retrieve them, we re-write them in light of whatever we have lived through in the meantime.

Kierkegaard knows, a century in advance of current neuroscience, that “there is no single moment where time stops completely in order for to take a position” that would allow me to go backwards. Contemporary studies of human memory formation and retrieval support the Danish philosopher’s insight.

“But it is a stubborn fact, or at least is presented this way in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke,” writes Father John Behr, “that the one born of Mary was not known by the disciples to be the Son of God until after the Passion, his crucifixion and resurrection” (page 7, my emphasis). Some Christians claim to have direct access to Jesus in the biblical text. They would assert either that their reading is free from interpretation or that it is the only possible interpretation. That is self-delusion at best. There is no uninterpreted text. Instead, there is either unconscious interpretation or conscious interpretation.

“Although popular imagination is still enthralled by the idea of ‘what really happened,’” Father Behr writes, “it is generally recognized today that there is no such thing as uninterpreted history. Failing to appreciate the confessional nature of theological assertions gives much modern theology a character that can only be described,” he notes, “as an odd mixture of metaphysics and mythology” (page 7).

Those who claim direct access to Jesus in the biblical text generally claim to “believe in the Bible.” That is part of that odd mixture of metaphysics and mythology to which Father Behr refers. In the gospels, however, Jesus calls disciples to believe in him and not in some text that bears witness to him. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life,” Jesus says in John 5:39, “and it is they that testify on my behalf.” The Bible does not authenticate Jesus. Jesus authenticates the Bible.

We see in today’s reading that this knowing found in the Scriptures happened only through Jesus’ interpretation of the Scriptures for the disciples post-Resurrection. All four gospels are at pains to remind us that we are in the same boat as the first disciples in that regard. Jesus is the Word made flesh, dwelling among us. It is Scripture that bears witness to that one true Word of God.

Jesus, crucified and raised from the dead, re-writes and interprets the memories of the disciples and of the scriptures in the light of that crucifixion and resurrection. In Luke 24:27, he “re-interprets” Moses and all the prophets through the lens of these events.

In verses forty-four to forty-seven he seems to go further in the interpretive process. He reminds them that this was his teaching all along, while he was still “together with them.” And he tells them again that it was “necessary” for all these written scriptures to be fulfilled. The NRSV misses the boat by translating this as “must be.” This is the word for Divine necessity that we find repeatedly in the Synoptic gospels.

Reminding the disciples, however, is not enough. He “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” Jesus does more than provide information. Instead, he works transformation. I can’t help but be reminded here of Paul’s words in Romans 12:2. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” he writes, “so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The word for “minds” both in Luke 24:45 and in Romans 12:2 is the Greek word “nous.” The Greeks loved to think about thinking. They had a variety of words for “mind.” “Nous” might be translated as intellectual and intelligible understanding. It is not “spirit,” which would relate to deeper and even pre-verbal insight and intuition. It is not “heart,” which would relate to emotion-fused thought and action. Jesus needs to instruct the disciples so they can properly understand and then interpret for others the witness to the Messiah in the Hebrew scriptures.

This understanding is, however, more than intellectual. It is the basis for one’s view of the world, one’s framework of understanding what is true and good and beautiful. It is the faculty through which one determines what is real and possible. So, one’s mind can be “opened” to new possibilities which a person could not have entertained previously. One can be transformed by the “renewing” of the mind. This new view of the world can make one into a new and different person. One cannot really read and understand the text apart from this opening of the mind.

Luke’s account reveals what God is up to in Jesus. “As far as Luke is concerned, then,” notes N. T. Wright, “we need have no doubt: he believed in the one-off, unique event of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, and he believed that the entire story of the creator’s dealings with the world and with Israel had come into new focus as a result of it. All the scriptural stories pointed this way, not that anyone had read them like that before. Israel’s story had reached its climax in the Messiah,” Wright concludes, “with him, the new chapter of the world’s history had opened, a new era characterized by divine forgiveness” (Wright, Resurrection, page 659, my emphasis).

Wright notes that this mind-opening reinterpretation of the Hebrew scriptures results not only in a new people but also in a new commission. We should recall that three of the four gospels have some sort of “Great Commission” near the end.

This is not the case only with Matthew, where Matthew 28:19-20 is often labelled as “The Great Commission.” In that commission, we have the commands to baptize and teach. For Christians, baptism is always in part about forgiveness of sins. And teaching always leads to proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

In both Luke and John, the Great Commission is even more explicit about this vocation to forgive and proclaim. We can read the Johannine version in John 20:21-23 (part of last week’s gospel text). Here in Luke, the commission is to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins.

The word for repentance is, of course, “metanoia.” This is not about a moral turnaround. Rather, this is about a “change of mind” (“nous”). Just as Jesus has taught and proclaimed to the disciples, so they are called to teach and proclaim to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. That teaching and proclamation can only be done with a mind that has been completely changed, opened, renewed, and transformed.

“Because Jesus is risen, he is demonstrated to be Israel’s Messiah; because he is Israel’s Messiah, he is the true lord of the world and will summon it to allegiance; to this end, he will commission his followers to act on his behalf, in the power of the Spirit which itself is a sign and means of covenant renewal and fresh life,” Wright asserts. “And the key followers, through whom the project will be launched, are the ‘witnesses’ who have seen for themselves that Jesus really is alive again after his crucifixion” (Wright, Resurrection, page 660).

In the next post or two, we will reflect further on the nature of the bodily resurrection as recorded in the first half of our reading, the call to be “witnesses of these things” and the transforming power of the Spirit that will make the vocation possible.

References and Resources

Behr, John . The Mystery of Christ. Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Journalen JJ:167 (1843),].

Wright, N. T. Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press.