Thursday, April 12, 2012

"… a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have"

Here is the Gospel reading from today's (Easter Thursday) Mass, and then a meditation by Fr Daniel O’Shea OP, from Today’s Good News website.

Luke 24:35-48: 

Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you." But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 

And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." 

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. 


“He stood among them.” John said (20:19) that they were huddled together, with the doors locked, for fear of the Jews; then he uses the same words as Luke: “Jesus stood among them.” He did not have to fumble with a key, or knock loudly (which would have made them lock the door even more securely) or call out (they would not have believed). He just stood suddenly inside the circle of their fear. Left to ourselves we would remain imprisoned forever inside that locked door, and all efforts to bring us out would have the opposite effect. The Risen Lord comes to meet us where we are, comes without violence, without argument or explanation, comes to liberate us into joy. 

They had so recently deserted him, but he “stood among them,” and greeted them with peace. Everything in Luke’s account is intended to express the reality of Jesus' presence. By eating he is demonstrating that he is not a ghost. In John's account, Jesus shows his hands and feet to show the marks of the nails, but in Luke's account there is no mention of the wounds. Showing them “his hands and his feet” was intended to show them his physical reality (“flesh and bones” rather than ghostly), but not necessarily the marks of crucifixion. The idiom “flesh and bones” derives from “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” of Genesis 2:23 (Adam so describing Eve), so the reference was to equal and shared humanity. 

To say things is easy: just creating a slight disturbance in the air. When we've said a lot of things we have the impression that we've done something, but we've only been breathing in a more complicated way. You can say the earth is 4.5 billion years old, but what have you said? You can say God made the world, but do you have any idea what you said? A good test of whether you understand something is to get yourself to say it without words – to say it with the body. The body is our first language. The verbal language we speak is shadowy beside it. 

Our “flesh and bones” are material of the resurrection. The Russian theologian, Paul Evdokimov, wrote about the ways in which matter and nature (including human nature) are represented in some forms of modern art. We are looking, he said, at a “closed and atheistic world...a world of still life and dead matter which is no longer the substance of the resurrection.” But the Christian faith affirms that this mortal body of ours, because Christ shared our human nature, is destined for things beyond our power to imagine.

* * *

Because the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is no mere "resuscitation", it is important not to reduce his risen eschatological bodiliness to the terms of the pre-resurrection world. Fr Herbert McCabe, in his book God Matters, says: 

I think that in these appearances Christ was more bodily than he allowed himself to appear. In himself he was the risen man, his body was that of the future to which we are summoned, the future beyond the ultimate revolution, but in order to show himself to his followers he appeared more or less as a body of our own time, a body of this world—it is true that he passed through closed doors and appeared and disappeared and so on, but generally speaking he wished to emphasize that he was a body and not a ghost. “‘See my hands and feet that it is I myself; handle me and see; for a ghost has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them: ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he took it and ate before them.” The emphasis in this as in the other stories of post-resurrection appearances is on the bodily reality of the risen Christ, but we are not to suppose that his bodiliness is restricted to the bodiliness of this era. 

For our present purposes the interest of this point is that in these appearances Jesus presents an intersection of future and present. He is the future world, the body in whom our bodies are to find unity and final humanity, the medium of communication in which mankind is ultimately to realise itself, he is the future world but he appears as a body of the present world . . . Although in fact he has surpassed the present and belongs not to this world but to the world of the future, he is presenting himself amongst men of this world and he can only be recognised by them in terms of a part of his biography that he has surpassed. (pp. 125-126)


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