Okay, so I guess it’s a miniseries now… the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. We’ve looked so far at his appearance to Mary (and the other women) and his encounter with Cleopas & Co. on the Emmaus road and around the table at Emmaus. Next up would be Jesus’ appearances to the twelve as they gathered together behind closed doors. When the Emmaus disciples arrive back in Jerusalem and find the eleven disciples (Luke 24), it appears they are in hiding behind locked doors (John 20)… but they readily accept the account of Cleopas and his friend, in part because Peter has also seen Jesus. No mention is made of his appearance to Mary as further proof.
While the Emmaus pair are recounting their story, Jesus interrupts by appearing in the room. I gather there was probably no puff of smoke, they just glanced away from the storytellers for a second and noticed there was an extra person listening in. It must have startled them quite significantly, as Jesus immediately has to calm their fears before speaking further. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt?” he asks, as he invites them to touch him and inquires if they’ve got any food about. He’s asking probably not because he left Emmaus so abruptly before finishing his dinner, but because he wants to prove he’s really there. Even in the first century, everyone knew that ghosts don’t eat. Conrad Gempf points out in Mealtime Habits of the Messiah that if you’ve seen Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll know what happens when ghosts try to eat, so this is a pretty good proof for the disciples — even more than their feeling his flesh and touching his wounds. The Gnostics should have paid more attention. The disciples watched Jesus eat, probably with the rapt attention that the audience might give Edgar Bergen drinking a glass of water while Charlie McCarthy speaks. Of course, Charlie never scarfed down any fish-sticks. (If you’re too young, you’ll just have to click the link.)
The appearance to Thomas (John 20) occurs a week later, but let’s discuss it now — Thomas gets a raw deal in everyone’s perception. He doesn’t demand to see Jesus quaff a pint or down a Big Mac before he’ll buy into this resurrection theory… he just wants to see the man for himself, and touch the wounds. Upon inspection of Jesus’ hands and feet, Luke says of the other disciples, “Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder.” They believed, and yet somehow they didn’t. A bit of broiled fish seals the deal for them, so they actually require — and get — more proof than Thomas does. For his part, ol’ Tom makes his inspection and blurts out, basically, “You are God!” The proof elicits his confession, the strongest of any in the New Testament, stronger than any other in the Bible. There’s no, “You’re the Messiah,” or “the Chosen One” or even “Son of God,” where there might somehow be room in the definition of terms to introduce qualifiers or hesitancy about his identity. Just God, unqualified. And this is the guy everyone calls “the doubter.” Can we stop that now?
Carrying on with more of Caravaggio’s artwork, the image above is variously titled “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas”, “Doubting Thomas”, or “Saint Thomas Putting his Finger on Christ’s Wound.” The work was painted sometime in 1602-3. Almost identical copies of this painting and that of the Pilgrimage to Emmaus were found in a church in the French town of Loches in 1999. After investigation, it was announced in 2006 that both works were authentic Caravaggios. Both contain the shield of arms of Philippe de Bethune, a friend of Caravaggio’s and French ambassador in Rome. Records show that Bethune acquired four paintings from the painter. Caravaggio often made several copies of his own paintings (source). I enjoy the realism in Caravaggio’s art, the fact that the characters look like “real people” despite the religious nature of the works. Here he captures the inspection of Jesus’ wounds by Thomas as two others look on… and you can almost hear Thomas saying, “Yup, that’s it alright.” It’s a decisive observation for him, and it’s an all-or-nothing moment with no further hesitation. Perhaps he understood best the meaning of the resurrection, but just wasn’t about to leap before he’d looked for himself. Evidently the request was reasonable enough that it was granted.
There’s one other matter in this post-resurrection encounter. Luke records that Jesus reminded them of the briefings he had given before, most recently on the Emmaus road — and then he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” so that they would understand how the things that had happened had been foretold and were necessary. He gave them a message, called them witnesses, and promised the Holy Spirit. If we flip over to John’s account, we find the commission stated differently: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” This is a key text for a missional reading of Jesus’ life and his command to us to live missionally. The empowering comes next, in what is known as the “Johannine Pentecost” when he gives them the Holy Spirit. At present, I’m going to sidestep all the questions about this versus the Holy Spirit’s arrival in Acts 2, and point out some of John’s choice Greek. I love John as an author for his use of the language at certain points. Here, we would find literally that Jesus “breathed into” them and said, “Receive Holy Spirit.” From two linguistic observations, we can take away some profound implications.
First, we might infer that “Holy Spirit” is a person, the reference being to a person or a title rather than some vague descriptor of a “thing.” Second, the Greek word usually rendered “breathed on” is emphusao, a rare term in the Bible used in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) in Genesis where God creates Adam and “breathes into” him to bring him to life, to make him “a living thing.” Tucked away here in John 20 is a moment of rebirth, of re-creation by Jesus, giving life to his disciples. It sounds very Pauline, where those of us who are “in Christ” are “new creatures,” or “new creations.” It’s a new life.
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Oh, and one more thing: Luke drops the news that Jesus has appeared to Peter, but says no more about it… yet there’s another encounter we’d really like to know more about! As Don Francisco imagines the words from a dejected Jesus-denying Peter’s lips, “Even if he was alive, it wouldn’t be the same.” And yet Peter recovers — his joy at seeing the risen Christ begins to outweigh his despair. There was evidently a private encounter between Jesus and Peter, apart from the one with the other disciples on the beach in John’s gospel. Peter’s perspective is our multimedia selection for the day.
What say you all about these post-resurrection encounters?