A Bad Case of Heartburn
Third Sunday of Easter. Fr Euan Marley shows us how Christ has always been with his people, since the beginning of time.
In the Gospel of Luke, there is the story of the poor man called Lazarus, and the rich man who is not named. Both die and Lazarus is rewarded but the rich man is left in hell. He calls to Abraham wishing for Lazarus to help him, and when this is refused, asks for the sake of his brothers, that Lazarus be sent to them. Abraham says that they have Moses and the prophets, but the rich man says that they will repent if someone should go to them from the dead.
Abraham then says, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’
It’s a curious subversion of the resurrection of Christ, even before it has happened. Yet Luke means what he says. The mere fact of coming back from the dead is not enough to convince anyone. We have the example of King Saul, who raises Samuel from the dead, even though he knows this is forbidden (1 Samuel Ch 29).
The various resurrection scenes in the Gospel of Luke are in fact tinged with elements of unbelief. The Apostles do not believe the women who have found the empty tomb and seen an angel. Peter, when he sees the empty tomb, is amazed at what has happened, but amazement is not belief. When Jesus does appear to them in Chapter 24, they are terrified at first, thinking that he is a ghost, much like Samuel had been. And when he shows that he is flesh and blood, some of them disbelieve from joy.
Their emotions change from terror to joy, but either way, they do not believe.
The rich man in the Lazarus story believes that his brothers will believe the scriptures because of the resurrection, but in fact for Luke it is the other way. To believe in the resurrection, it is first necessary to believe in the scriptures.
This is what Jesus himself insists on. He teaches the disciples on the way to Emmaus to understand the scriptures. He explains to them all the things in the scriptures about himself. Then when he appears to the Apostles, he opens their heart to understand the scriptures.
Does this mean that we should be able to deduce the resurrection of Jesus from the Old Testament? I don’t think so. Perhaps we could in principle, but that isn’t saying much. The whole world could live in perfect peace and harmony, in principle.
It is Jesus who explains the scriptures to his followers. The angels at the tomb upbraid the women for failing to remember how Jesus had said that the Son of Man had to be given into the hands of sinners, to be crucified and on the third day to rise again. With the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus does not blame them for forgetting, but for being slow to understand the prophets. It is no longer a question of reminding them of what he had said, because he is with them now, opening the scriptures.
If the risen Christ thinks it necessary to bring the Old Testament before his disciples, if he does not regard his presence as enough to show that he is indeed the Christ, how could we ourselves disregard these writings? In point of fact, it was an early heresy to claim that the God of the Old Testament was a different God from the God of the New Testament. Even some Old Testament scholars have reduced the Scriptures to a mere set of examples of a world without Christ.
Yet this is precisely wrong. The risen Christ demonstrates to his disciples that he was always there in the life of Israel, in word and song, in everything that expressed their fear and their joy, he was there waiting to be revealed. So in his last words to the disciples he says that he will send the promise of his Father over them, the promise made by the Old Testament.
We too have to turn to these scriptures to see how Christ casts his shadow over the many terrible events in the history of the people of God, of which by grace we have become part. In the end it is not a matter of intellect, but of heart. For the disciples on the road to Emmaus, their hearts burned within them as he opened the Scriptures. To the disciples in Jerusalem, it is their hearts he opened. For Jesus, the opening of hearts and the opening of Scripture is the same thing.