Saturday, April 29, 2017

Third Sunday of Easter Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

Absent But Present

Today we study another quality of the resurrected body of Jesus. This quality is found in our Gospel reading. We heard it read, "And it happened that, while he (Jesus) was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight." Jesus vanished from their sight. His resurrected body, as it were, disappeared.

This seems like a minor detail in our Gospel but it has implications which have a very practical bearing in our daily life. But first of all let us analyze the meaning of the term "vanished" used here in the original Greek language of the Gospel according to Luke. This is another example of those passages in the New Testament whose meaning for us would be enriched if we study the meaning in the original Greek language.

The original Greek for the word translated here "vanished" is a unique word. This is because it does not appear in all the Bible except here. It appears often in Greek poetry but rarely in Greek prose and this only in the later stages of the Greek language. This word is aphantos. It is a combination of two Greek words “a” and “phantos” which is derived from “phainomai” which means to appear. Now “a” in Greek as a prefix means “not”, as in “anomalous” which means “not normal” or “not consistent”. So literally aphantos merely means not manifest, not visible.

But this aphantos is used with a verb. The verb is egeneto which means “became”. This is the same verb used in our Angelus, And the Word became flesh. So aphantos egeneto means he "became invisible."

Many translators translate these two words aphantos egeneto "vanished" because that was the effect upon the two disciples, Jesus vanished or disappeared from them.

But if we stick to the literal meaning of the Greek words, they merely mean that Jesus became invisible to the two disciples.

One reason why this meaning is not used by the translators is because of the following prepositional phrase after these two words. The prepositional phrase in Greek is ap autown, which usually means "from them", not "to them". Our translation, the New American Bible Revised Edition, renders this, "from their sight".

But now we are clear that according to Luke who was a Gentile and a native Greek speaker, Jesus became invisible. This has an important implication for us.

If Jesus became invisible, his risen body was still there but it could no longer be seen by Cleopas and his companion because that is what Jesus wanted it to be, unseen by them.

Hence another quality of Jesus' resurrected body was that it could become visible and invisible as Jesus wanted it. It became visible when Jesus joined in the conversation of his two disciples. It became invisible when they recognized it was Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

Now we add this to what we learned last Sunday. Jesus' body became visible in the room where the disciples were despite the fact that all doors to this room were locked. And after Jesus conversed with his disciples his body became invisible.

And that is what happened during the 40 days before Jesus' ascension to heaven. His body was still here on earth but it could become visible and invisible as Jesus wished.

This means that Jesus’ body was absent as far as the sight was concerned but it was fully present as far as the reality was concerned. He was really present there but absent to the sense of sight.

Now the question we ask is: Why did Jesus after his resurrection became visible and invisible to his disciples? Certainly he was not playing the game Hide and Seek: you hide and I seek you after I count some numbers, as some of us have played this during our childhood days.

It is strange that this is not commented upon by many commentators on our Gospel, that Jesus becomes visible and invisible. But it is a detail most important for us to consider.

The reason why Jesus after his resurrection appeared and disappeared although he did not leave the people around him, he just became invisible, was that he was training his disciples to perceive him in a spiritual way. He wanted them to consider him as a spirit to prepare for their reception of him as Spirit on Pentecost day.

For three or so years they had perceived him physically. They saw him in a place, they saw him walk and talk, they felt his touch, they gazed into his eyes. They saw him as a physical person. Now Jesus was training them to realize that he was there as fully as he was before his resurrection but this time they had to look at him in a spiritual way, as a person invisible but fully present.

This reality of Jesus being fully present but invisible is true for us in a similar manner. Now we know that Jesus’ body ascended to heaven, which we will celebrate later on. But he sent to us His own Spirit which is like his risen body. This Spirit of Jesus is invisible to us, but he is really there with us. This is why Jesus said at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!.”

Some of you may have come across this plaque on the wall of a living room or sala. It reads Christ is the head of this house,
     The unseen guest at every meal,
     The silent listener to every conversation.

Yes, even today Jesus is the unseen, invisible quest at our every meal, as he did during the meal at Emmaus with his disciples.

Here is another plaque which I found in a business establishment of a Jehovah’s Witness.

CHRIST is the head of this business.
The unseen Manager in every department,
The silent Partner to every transaction.

Jesus is indeed the unseen, invisible manager in all Christian businesses.

Sue Towler wrote a poem entitled THE UNSEEN GUEST. It begins,
If Jesus spoke to you today
And asked if He could spend
Some time with you and your family
Over this next weekend
What would your reaction be?

The last four lines of this poem are very instructive for us:
Let's live our lives remembering
That Jesus is right there
In every situation
No matter when or where.

Yes, Jesus has become invisible as he did during that meal in Emmaus in order that he can be fully present with us as he was then to his first disciples. In fact he is nearer to us than our own skin, because he lives within us. That is the meaning of the phrase that we are the temple of God. God dwells within us as spirit.

Our first reading tells us that David saw Jesus at his right hand although Jesus was coming only centuries after him. He saw Jesus in spirit. This is our privilege now. We can see Jesus spiritually because He sent us His Spirit, we received this Spirit and this Spirit lives within us. As David says in our reading, He fills us with joy in his presence.

Peter was more explicit in our second reading. He says that Jesus is now revealed in the final time for us who through him believe in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that our faith and hope are in God. That is, Jesus is revealed to us in an invisible manner, through his Spirit.

Halleluiah! Jesus is risen! He now lives among us! We can talk to him anytime we want because although invisible to us, he is fully present to us as he was to his disciples after his resurrection. This was the reason why he said to his disciples, “It is much better for you that I go” (John 16:7) so that the Spirit can come to them and to us. Now we can have Jesus wherever we are, unlike before when we had to go to where he was physically in order to be with him. In fact Jesus is inside us, he lives inside of us, he is our life as he himself said.
Let us thank Jesus for fulfilling his promise of being with us always. We bow our heads.

Jesus, thank you for being with us always although you remain invisible to our physical eyes. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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