“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.
This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 24:35–48:
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.
He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
How do you expect your life to unfold? If someone had asked me that when I was in my teens, I would have had a much different conception of my future. At the time, I expected that I would graduate college, get married relatively young and have a few kids, and maybe have a career on stage, or perhaps in stage production. None of those were particularly strong ambitions for me, except perhaps for having a family, but those were my expectations nonetheless.
Those expectations changed as I grew older. A few years later, my expectations revolved around working in the aerospace industry as a technical writer, settling down soon, and never leaving Southern California. A few years after that, I figured that I’d stumbled onto a lifelong career as a call center manager, that I’d left Southern California for good, and that I might never get married at all. And so on, and so on. The longer one lives, the more that the concept of “expectations” becomes ironic.
Today’s readings tell all about the futility of expectations, and the need to dispense with them in order to perceive truth. In all three readings, the authors of the scripture talk either explicitly or implicitly about the mistaken expectations of their times, and how it blinded the Israelites to the salvation of Jesus Christ.
In Acts, Luke writes about Peter’s address to the people of Jerusalem, who had been desperately awaiting the Messiah. However, they did not recognize Jesus as their salvation, even though Jesus had taught among the Israelites for three years. “You denied the Holy and Righteous One,” Peter tells them, and “the author of life you put to death” — but they “acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did.” What was the source of that ignorance? The Israelites had expected a material Messiah, a warlord who would put the Romans to flight and re-establish the Davidic kingdom on Earth. Those expectations of the nature of the Messiah blinded them to the promise of eternal freedom and joy in the life of the Lord. They could not see past their own expectations, and so they missed the most crucial moment in salvation history.
John writes a little more subtly about another expectation of the time: the power of sin. During the time of temple worship, sins could only be expiated by the temple priests through blood sacrifices, and it required considerable time and resources to engage in that practice. John tries to instruct the early churches that he established that sin no longer has that kind of power, and that the one sacrifice is sufficient. “But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one,” John writes in his first epistle (1 John 2:1-5). “He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.” The old expectations of sin remain with us to this day, and burden us with the fears that we have committed sins which cannot be forgiven, let alone expiated. John urges us to dispense with the despair that our old expectation of sin brings, and put our faith in Jesus Christ.
Even the disciples initially had difficulty in shrugging off those expectations. They knew that Jesus died on the cross, and their expectation of death was finality. Even when two disciples described their encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, today’s passage from Luke shows that they first assumed that the appearance of Jesus was that of a ghost. They could not yet get past the expectation that death was the end of all. Jesus has to show them his risen body, and then finally ask for something to eat for them to realize He had truly conquered death. Luke, himself a physician, makes a particular point of including that point.
At that point, Jesus then carefully explains exactly what had happened. Luke writes that “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” In other words, He had to undo their previous understanding of those passages — their expectations of what the Scriptures meant — in order to open their minds to the truth and all of its glory. We need only join in the sacrifice, offer our sufferings and failings to the Lord, and He will lift us out of our sin to salvation.
How do our expectations today keep us from the possibilities of salvation? How do we still, to this day, attach ourselves to the expectations and demands of our times, of our culture? It’s very easy to get lost in expectations, and to think that the world unfolds in an entirely material manner, and that our triumphs in that context are what matters. Those expectations can become prisons, though, blinkering us to the possibilities of eternal life. That’s the only triumph that truly matters, in the end.
The Messiah was always intended to provide the perfect sacrifice for us all, in order to open the gates of heaven to all, and surpass all expectations. All we have to do is allow Jesus to open our own minds and put aside those expectations for us to see the way to the truth.
The front page image is a detail from “Emmaus, Christ Breaking Bread” by Pier Leone Ghezzi.