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4/15/1999
WORD OF FAITH
Staying in Jerusalem
REV. ROGER KARBAN


Sunday is one of those rare occasions when we have two Scripture passages (the first and third) composed by the same author: Luke. Homilists love such opportunities; they can point out how the writer presents the same theology in to different settings.

When we explore Luke's theology, we find it revolves around a geographic place: Jerusalem. Although by the mid-80s when he writes, Jerusalem is no longer "geographical." The Roman army had almost wiped it off the map 15 years earlier. So Luke could use the city without fear that his readers would get lost in the literalness of the place.

Luke transforms Jerusalem from a geographic point into a theological entity by making it the place where followers of Jesus suffer, die, rise, receive the Holy Spirit and are sent out to proclaim the Good News. Contradicting the two earlier Gospels -- Mark and Matthew -- Luke's Jesus insists that His disciples not return to Galilee after His resurrection. They're to remain in Jerusalem until their "theological process" is completed, 50 days after the Passover feast which they originally traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate.

Come back

In the Gospel (Lk 24;13-35), we see what happens when two disciples attempt to sneak back to Galilee on Easter Sunday morning. Jesus not only hurries out of Jerusalem to bring them back, but also in the process gives them a Scripture lesson on the necessity of dying before rising. Eventually, He reveals Himself to them in the setting Christians most expect to recognize Him in their midst: the breaking of bread. (It's there Jesus' followers most imitate His dying and rising by completely giving themselves to one another.)

Luke believes and teaches that Jesus' passion wasn't accidental, something He could have avoided under different circumstances. It was essential for reaching life. "Was it not necessary," the stranger asks the escaping disciples, "that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into His glory?"

Luke is interested in conveying the necessity of Jesus' passion and death because he's trying to confront an attitude in his community that the life Jesus promises can be attained without the suffering and death Jesus experienced. That's why he revolves Peter's Pentecost proclamation around the same theme (Acts 2;14, 22-28). Before Peter mentions Jesus' resurrection and the coming of the Spirit, he reminds the crowd (in Jerusalem), "this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised Him up, having freed Him from death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in its power." For Luke, the process is always the same: first suffering and death, then life.

Heritage of faith

Though the author of I Peter doesn't ground his theology in a Jerusalem experience, he still insists that the newly baptized community he addresses should never forget how they got where they are (I Peter 1:17-21). "Remember," he writes, "the ransom that was paid to free you from the useless way of life your ancestors handed down was not paid in anything corruptible, neither in silver nor gold, but in the precious blood of a lamb without spot or stain, namely Christ."

Our "faith-ancestors" differ greatly from the "faithless-ancestors" of I Peter's community. The individuals who have passed the faith on to us are people who have traveled the road to and from Jerusalem, people who have already experienced the dying, rising and Spirit of Jesus.

One of my students, Sister Maxine Peppenhorst, often reminds us that the two disciples recognized Jesus that night in the breaking of the bread only because they had taken part in the original breaking of the bread on the night before Jesus died.

We recognize Jesus in our lives, not because we've read about Him in a book or can prove an array of theological theses, but because we've shared His Jerusalem experience. There are no shortcuts to -- or early exit from -- such a place.

(04-15-99)

 













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