Our Gospel today is from the Gospel of Luke. And I think it bears some examination.
It opens with two disciples - some think this was a married couple - who recount what had just happened to them. Jesus had appeared to them as they walked along to Emmaus, but they did not know it was Jesus. He explained to them the passages in the Old Testament that referred to Him. That evening Jesus broke bread with them, and then they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, whereupon Jesus vanished. The couple got up and hastened back to Jerusalem, where our Gospel today finds them regaling the Apostles with their experience on the road and how they had come to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Which we call Eucharist.
Suddenly, why they were still speaking, Jesus appears.
The first thing Jesus says to them is “Peace be with you.” That was important, because there are many things Jesus could have said to them. He could of said “Some friends you guys turned out to be. Where were you on Friday when I needed you?” He could have accused them of cowardice. He could have blasted them to smithereens. But Jesus did not do any of that. Instead, He said “Peace be with you.” Jesus is forgiving them, reconciling them, healing them. The same is true for us. When we screw up, when we act selfishly, cowardly, greedily, and we go to Jesus, He does not condemn, He does not chastise, He does not ridicule us. Instead, He says what He always says: “Peace be with you.” Jesus is always ready to forgive and welcome us back.
The disciples are overwhelmed. They think they are seeing a ghost. So Jesus says, “Look at my hands and my feet.” Why His hands and His feet? That seems like a strange way to recognize a person. Why not ‘look at my face’? That is because Jesus shows them the nail marks from His crucifixion, to show that it is really, truly Him. The marks on Jesus’ hands and feet are the marks of how great His love is for each one of us: that out of love He gave even His life for us on the Cross.
Jesus than says, “Touch me and see,…” Jesus is mixing His metaphors here. Either He could say ‘touch me and feel..” or ‘look at me and see…’ But clearly Jesus is not using “see” in the sense of visible sight, but rather in the sense of understanding and insight. “Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”
Then Jesus does something strange, He asks “Have you anything here to eat?” This is a strange question for two reasons. First of all, Jesus in His resurrected state of glory would have known if there was anything there to eat. He did not ask in order to find out. I think Jesus asks instead as a way of being polite.
And secondly Jesus does not ask because He is hungry, as if being resurrected is a real workout that leaves you famished. I don’t think so. Rather Jesus eats to convince them He is really and truly with them. So often the meals that Jesus shared with His disciples were significant times of teaching and bonding, especially the last meal Jesus shared with them at the Last Supper. By eating again with them Jesus re-affirms that bond of friendship and dedication, and His commitment to them. Just as Jesus does at this Mass, as we together commune with Him in the Eucharist.
Jesus wants them, and us, to know He is truly present with us. That is why He tells them, “Touch me and see…” Touch is so important and so powerful. We know it is crucial for the development of infants to be touched and held.
Many years ago when I was a novice, just starting out with the Paulists, I worked two days a week at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Patterson, NJ. The two Catholic priests who were the full-time chaplains there were wonderful guys and great mentors. I was visiting patients on the cardiac care floor, which included a number of younger guys who had been very ambitious, burned their candle and both ends, and ended up having a heart attack. They had to lie rather quietly for some time as part of their recovery. And they were not used to that enforced inaction. The priest chaplains told me that when I went in to meet them to shake their hand, and then let them terminate the handshake. I could stand their talking to them for 15 minutes, and invariably, they never let go.
And in the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, the laying on of hands while praying silently, is also, very powerful.
Touch is so powerful. And in the Gospel Jesus invites us, “Touch me and see, …” Well Jesus is not going to appear before us like He did on that Easter night so many years ago. But on the other hand, sitting all around you is the Body of Christ. It may not look on the surface like Christ, but this congregation is truly His Body in the world, which receives His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, to be strengthened to go forth and continue Jesus’ mission here and now.
So when you come to the sign of peace in about 15 minutes or so, and you reach out to touch those around you, know that in addition to the fellow parishioner who is there, you are also touching the true Body of Christ. Touch and see, opening the eyes of your heart, and know that Jesus truly is Risen. Alleluia!