Today’s Gospel lesson is Luke’s version of the story we heard last week from John. John’s version is told through the experience of Thomas. You remember the story. Thomas wasn’t with the disciples the first time Jesus appeared to them. They tell Thomas, “We’ve seen Jesus!” He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.” The next time Jesus appears, Thomas is with them. Jesus shows Thomas his wounds, places Thomas’ hand in his side, and Thomas believes.
That’s what it took for Thomas to believe–a real live encounter, not just with Jesus, but with his wounds.
Thomas has gotten lots of grief for his unbelief over the centuries. I guess those detractors never read this passage from Luke. Because the disciples in this scene need even more evidence than Thomas did! Listen:
“Jesus stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.”
At this point in John’s version of the story, Thomas believes. “My Lord and my God!” he says. In Luke’s version, the disciples aren’t quite there yet. Despite their joy, “they were disbelieving and still wondering.” Admittedly, it was a lot for them to take in. Jesus? Their beloved teacher whom they had seen betrayed, beaten, and killed? Standing in their midst, his wounds on full display? No wonder they thought he was a ghost! I imagine in the moment, most of us also would be “disbelieving and still wondering.”
So, you’re a risen savior, trying to get folks to believe—because how are they going to share the good news if they don’t believe that good news themselves? So, you’re a risen savior trying to get folks to believe and you’ve already pulled out all the stops like you did with Thomas—you show up, you bestow a little peace, you show your scars. Even Thomas believed after all that. But these folks still don’t believe. What’s a risen savior to do?
Here’s what Jesus does: he asks for a snack. “Got anything to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.”
What can this possibly mean? How will eating a piece of fish help anybody believe? In order for him to believe, Thomas needed to see and touch Jesus’ wounds. That makes sense. But serving Jesus a bit of broiled fish? What’s up with that? Did Jesus need that bit of fish? Was the heavenly pantry bare? Did Jesus have the hungries? I doubt it. But he seems to sense that, for this group of disciples, deep belief will come through serving others. So, anxious for them to believe, Jesus invites them to do just that: he invites the disciples to serve him.
This scene resonates with the Zaccheus story. Remember that one? Zaccheus–a hated tax collector–climbs up a sycamore tree to see Jesus when the great teacher comes to town. Jesus sees Zaccheus, Zaccheus experiences a conversion, then Jesus says, “Zaccheus! You come down! For I’m going to your house today. I’m going to your house today.” After years of taking from others, often in extortative ways, what Zaccheus needs in this moment is to GIVE. He needs to extend hospitality to others. Lest his conversion get lost in the ether and relegated to a happy memory, Jesus invites Zaccheus to ground his faith in the here and now: He invites Zaccheus to serve others.
Jesus extends the same invitation to the disciples after his resurrection. They’re happy, giddy, even, that Jesus is back with them. But lest they get caught up in the miracle of it all, Jesus invites them to reconnect with reality in a tangible way– “Do you have anything to eat?”
“They gave him a piece of broiled fish.” Isn’t that an interesting detail? They gave him broiled fish….which means someone took the time to catch the fish, prepare it to cook, prepare the fire, and cook the fish. I wonder how they served it. On a plate? In a bowl? With a side order of hush puppies and grits?
They gave him a piece of broiled fish. They took some time and care to extend hospitality to Jesus. Fixing that fish took the disciples out of themselves, brought them back to earth, and got them grounded in the here and now….which is where they needed to be if they were going to do God’s work in the world.
I’ve just returned from a Women Touched by Grace retreat at the monastery. Visiting Our Lady of Grace is always like going home. That’s due, in part, to the Benedictine commitment to hospitality. Every person who comes to the monastery is to be received as Christ. At Our Lady of Grace, that means all our needs are met–our accommodation needs, our need for meals, our need for prayer, our need for Wi-Fi. J The beautiful thing about Benedictine spirituality is that everyone is welcomed and received for exactly who they are.
Why do the sisters practice this kind of radical hospitality? Why do they extend kindness to others and do whatever they can to meet the needs of those who visit the monastery? They do it because serving others strengthens and deepens their own connection with God. When we’re grounded in the real world–as we must be if we’re meeting the needs of others–our understanding of God also gets grounded and real. Our relationship with God deepens.
Jesus had some important things to say to the disciples. Their disbelief and wonder were preventing them from hearing what he was saying. So, to get them focused enough to receive what he had to say, to get them grounded in the real world again, Jesus invited them to serve him, to extend hospitality to him.
Once they did that, once they served Jesus, only then were they ready to receive Jesus’ message. Only then did they come to believe. Only then were they empowered to share the good news of God’s love with others. If you read the sequel to Luke—the book of Acts—you’ll see that the disciples quickly began sharing the good news with everyone. In fact, that we are gathered here this morning is a legacy to the powerful work of those first century disciples.
Man. I wish we had an opportunity to serve others right now….wouldn’t that be a terrific way to end this sermon? To invite people to deepen their own belief by actually serving others?
Wait a minute! We do have an opportunity to serve coming up. It begins right after worship, doesn’t it? Yes! Another week of hosting Family Promise begins TODAY!
What are some ways people might extend hospitality to others this week of hosting Family Promise? (That is, what works needs to be done?) (Responses: Playing with the children; staying overnight; preparing meals; washing sheets and towels; listening)
Another question: In what ways has participating in Family Promise deepened your faith? (Responses: It helps us keep things in perspective. Reminds us to be grateful.)
Sometimes–often–the surest way to gain clarity in our relationship with God is to serve others. It’s not something we do outside of theological reflection or spiritual discernment. It is the way to grow deeper in our spirituality and knowledge of God. Want to grow deeper in faith? Want to grow closer to God? Serve others—serve others through Family Promise or in some other context. Serve others and find God. Serve others and find healing. Serve others and find yourself.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2015
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.