He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.
Jesus’ made constant reference to scripture. At the beginning of his public ministry after his 40 days in the desert, Jesus went to a synagogue in Nazareth opened the scroll to Isaiah and read
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
At the transfiguration, he appeared in splendor with Moses and Elijah, patriarchs of Hebrew scripture
On Easter Sunday, when he walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus began with Moses and all the Prophets and explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Scripture was a constant reference point throughout his ministry.
By the time of this morning’s gospel, (Luke 24:44-53) the disciples had followed Jesus for years. He had taught them to pray. They heard him teach, had seen him cure the sick, feed thousands, drive out demons, and refer frequently to scripture, …. but their knowledge was incomplete. They had the experiences but not full comprehension.
They did not see him as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. They still misunderstood him and his teachings. He had told them, many times, that he must die and rise again on the third day.
Yet on Easter Sunday Luke tells us that he had to explain the scriptures to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus… and it filled their hearts with joy.
In John’s account of Easter Sunday, the disciples were afraid when they first saw the risen Jesus even though Jesus had told them he would rise, repeatedly.
One metaphor that comes to mind is that it was as though they had all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle but they hadn’t put them together into a coherent, true picture of Jesus.
In that moment in this morning’s gospel, when Christ opened their minds to understand the scriptures, I imagine that the grace of God ignited in them the memories of Jesus’ words and passages from scripture and turned their recollections into a full-bodied explosion of awe as they grasped who he truly was.
The pieces of the puzzle came together.
I’m sure you’ve had the experience, from time to time, of looking back on an event in which you were a participant, and suddenly you perceived it in a new way that you had not understood at the time it was happening. There was an “Oh!-That’s-what-she-meant!” moment.
I think that’s what it was like for Jesus’ disciples that day in Bethany. They realized the words of Christ in a way that was simultaneously familiar yet fresh. It was an exciting and transformative re-integration of everything they thought they knew about Jesus.
And yet… it still wasn’t complete. It wasn’t the full experience of Pentecost when Jesus’ apostles the Spirit of God ignited their experiences and impelled them to carry Jesus’ good news to the whole world. That was yet to come.
The apostles’ situation, as they walked down the hill from Bethany after Jesus had been taken up to heaven and they returned to Jerusalem in great joy reminded me of a story by Anthony de Mello, called “A Call to Love”. It goes…
A woman dreamed she walked into a new shop in the market and to her surprise she found God behind the counter.
“What do you sell here?” she asked him.
“Everything your heart desires,” said God.
Hardly daring to believe what she was hearing, the woman decided to ask for the best things a human could wish for, “I want peace of mind, and love and happiness and wisdom and freedom from fear,” she said.
Then after a moment’s pause, she added, “Not just for me. For everyone on earth.”
God smiled and said, “I think you’ve got me wrong, my dear. We don’t sell fruits here…. Only the seeds.
Like the woman in de Mello’s story, the apostles on Ascension Day had the seeds ...their witness of the wonders of God in Jesus. Their experience of him was both collective and personal and in the days to come they would explore the implications for themselves as individuals and as a group of Jesus’ followers.
But they had yet to have the Spirit embolden them and set fire to that witness and transform it into commitment.
Rather than being upset that Jesus had left them, following their mind-opening …and internalizing… experience of scriptures, it is significant that they went back to the city with great joy.
They were able to recall their time with Jesus, his miracles, teachings, death… and his resurrection from the dead with a new clarity of understanding. And it was a joy to do so.
As with the apostles that day we have the seeds of all these promised fruits within the scripture…the witness of the mysterious truths about Jesus Christ who lived among us and lives, today, within us.
I pray that their experience of Christ opening their minds to understand the scriptures, will be yours as well and that you will embrace the understanding with great joy.
And that all of us can go forward, each in our own way and transform comprehension into commitment so we can live out the mission of St. Aidan’s: To Know Christ and make him known.