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4/3/2008
WORD OF FAITH
Breaking of the bread
REV. ROGER KARBAN


One of the perks of being a sacred author is that you get to write people's speeches for them.

In Sunday's first (Acts 2:14,22-23) and third (Luke 24:13-35) readings, for instance, Luke composes everything Peter and Jesus say.

Peter's Pentecost and Jesus' Easter discourses are well-known for their explanation of the events that occur on the days they're delivered. At these points of his double-volume work, Luke isn't as interested in what happened as much as he's concerned with why it happened: Why did Jesus rise? Why did the Holy Spirit descend?

Suffering

In his classic work, "The Real Jesus," Luke Timothy Johnson, presuming both Matthew and Luke copied from Mark, states: "Matthew and Luke feel free to alter virtually every other aspect of Mark, but the image of the suffering One they do not alter in the least....For Luke (especially), the heart both of the Scriptures and of the good news is that 'the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory'....For [Jesus' disciples] the path of suffering marks the authentic following of the Messiah."

As we see in Sunday's passages, Luke can't explain these two crucial phenomena in Jesus' and the Christian community's life without constantly hammering away not only on the experience of suffering, but also on the necessity of suffering.

Of course, Luke isn't alone in employing this concept. A generation after Luke composed his Gospel and Acts, the author of the second reading (I Peter 1:17-21) echoes the same theme: "You were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless, unblemished lamb."

We only live because He died. But Luke, more than any other author, emphasizes the "must" of Jesus' suffering and death. Listen carefully as Luke's Jesus, in the Gospel, chides His two runaway disciples: "Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?"

Like all Jesus' followers, these two (probably Cleopas and his wife) thought they could be disciples yet escape suffering and death.

According to Peter's Pentecost speech, Jesus wasn't delivered up and killed by accident. These things happened "by the set plan and foreknowledge of God." That can only mean that God set a price of suffering and death on Jesus' pouring forth the Holy Spirit on His followers.

According to Luke, no one can have the Spirit or experience true life without imitating Jesus' suffering and death.

Made known

One last point. Don't overlook the final line of the Gospel: "The two recounted what had taken place on the way and how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread."

Scripture scholars for a long time have reminded us that this passage contains a Eucharist. We first have the Liturgy of the Word: Jesus explains the Scriptures. Then we have the Liturgy of the Bread and Wine: He joins them at table. The "breaking of bread" is one of the earliest ways of referring to the Eucharist.

Many of us, formed by a more modern idea of Eucharist, would expect the two disciples to exclaim, "We recognized Him in the bread!" It's important for Luke that their recognition took place in the "breaking" of the bread -- in the whole action and experience of people participating in the Lord's Supper.

Is it possible that some of us recognize Jesus only in the bread and not in the community that breaks the bread? That can only mean we refuse to suffer and die enough to become totally one with every person in that community.

(04/03/08)












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