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