The Third Sunday of Easter – 26 April 2020
Lectionary Readings: Acts 2:14.22-33; Ps 16:1-2.5.7-11; 1 Pet 1:17-21; Lk 24:13-35
Theme: Word and Bread
At the beginning of Luke’s wonderful story of Jesus meeting with two despondent disciples walking away from Jerusalem on the day of resurrection we learn that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Lk 24:16), but after their encounter with Jesus “their eyes were opened” (Lk 24:31). What happened to effect this change?
Five of the last nine verses of the portion of the Gospel set as today’s reading, together with two verses (vv. 45, 46) further on in the chapter beyond our present reading, provide some answers. In verses 27 and 32 Luke says that Jesus interpreted, or opened, the scriptures for the disciples and in verse 31 that their eyes were opened. Verses 30 and 35 are about the breaking of bread. Verses 45-56 bring to a close the theme Luke has been developing. We find a link between all these verses if we situate them in their first century Jewish context in which a strong connection was seen between Torah and bread.
Firstly though, in Luke 24:31 the Greek verb dianoigo (to open) is used in its usual sense of opening eyes (“their eyes were opened”) but in the very next verse he uses it differently (“he was opening the scriptures to us”) even though there was another word in Greek for opening a scroll. Towards the end of chapter 24, he uses it again but this time “he opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Lk 24:45). Luke is stressing that one can “see” properly in the present only after one “sees” the scripture correctly. It is through this enlightenment as to the meaning of scripture that the disciples eventually become witnesses (Evans & Sanders, 18-19, 47).
The connection between Torah and bread stems from Deuteronomy 8:3 “…one does not live by bread alone, but by every word…”. In later centuries bread became a metaphor for scripture. The Mishnah makes the connection explicit: “Without bread (lit. flour) there is no Torah; without Torah there is no bread” (Pirkei Avot 3:17). Just as bread nourishes our bodies, so Torah nourishes our spirits. The references in Luke to the breaking of bread noted above, usually interpreted as referring to the Christian celebration of Eucharist, were likely meant originally as references to the breaking open of scripture, to reading it with understanding. The content of this understanding is given in Luke 24:46, “that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day”. The early Christians re-interpreted their scripture, the Septuagint, to come to an understanding of a crucified Messiah by finding new meaning in references to God’s son in some of the Psalms, and in such passages as the Aqedah in Genesis and the Songs of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (Van Buren, 34, 42, 64).
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Can you recall any experience of suddenly coming to a new understanding of a passage of scripture? If so, share that with others. 2. Which passage of the Gospels speaks to you most strongly about who Jesus really is for you?
Bibliography: Evans, C.A. & Sanders, J.A. Luke and Scripture: The Function of Sacred Scripture in Luke-Acts (Eugene: 2001); Van Buren, P.M. According to the Scriptures (Grand Rapids: 1998).