- Easter 3.18 “On Opening Closed Doors” Luke 24:36-49
“And He opened their minds, that they might comprehend the Scriptures”
And we go “Well, why didn’t Jesus do that like Day One?!” Wouldn’t that have made this whole thing go better, smoother, more successfully?! By the way, the Greek is “mind” not “understanding”, though understanding is not a disastrous translation of νουν, that Greek word is most literally translated as “mind”, let the reader understand (you see what I did there 🙂
Anyway, this is something that has long bothered me. Why did Jesus put up with such close-minded guys as the apostles and all their errors and stupid mistakes for three years? He’s God, after all! Why not open their minds to understand the Scriptures on the very first day He called them to follow Him as Apostles of His?! Of course, when you argue with the Scriptures, with Jesus’ Way of doing things, you always lose. It’s a bad idea. But sometimes we just can’t help ourselves, right? I find it’s better to be honest and up front about your obtuseness and struggles with Jesus’ Way of doing things, best to admit right away you don’t get the joke so that the Word can go to work on you right away and straighten you out, open your mind to understand the Scriptures and how it was necessary for the Christ to suffer fools like us, to suffer and die and rise from the dead the third day for slow learners like us.
Being a bit stubborn and on the slow-learner train myself (It took me 10 years of intense theological study at one Lutheran college, one university div school, and 3 different Lutheran seminaries before I kinda sorta finally got IT—so 3 years for the apostles to catch on was way ahead of my pace!) I am both baffled by this and, at the same time, oddly encouraged. I mean, if Peter, James, John, and Matthew didn’t really get the Scriptures and the whole Jesus thing at all until three years down the road—and only after a face to face encounter with the crucified and risen Lord(!) then I’m feeling not quite so bad about my own stumble-bumble path. At least there’s some good company in the bottom 25th percentile of the catechism class!
I think the mistake a lot of us make, and that the apostles seem to have made, is this: if you’re pretty quick at comprehending most texts, if you rip through Nietzsche, Spinoza, Camus, Bowles, Kierkegaard, Eliot, Pynchon, Mann, and other “difficult literature” when you’re just a kid, like other kids chew through comic books, and go “Please sir, can I have some more?” you get a little cocky. You think you’re hot stuff, like there’s no text whose code you can’t crack. And so you go at the Scriptures like “difficult literature” like Nabokov wrote it, or maybe Danielewski. And that’s why you struggle! Because the Bible isn’t like other literature, especially “difficult literature”. Where other stories demand that we fit them into our world with clever theories, the Bible is the opposite: the Bible insists on fitting us into its world, with no theories, no arguments. Trying wise-guy lit-crit on the Bible will just make you look really, really stupid. Don’t ask me how I know this 🙂
Jesus warned us about this: “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes…” St. Paul says the Gospel is foolishness to philosophers and a scandal to religious types such that the smarty-pants-race-ahead-readers, teachers-pet, masters of “difficult literature” are at a serious disadvantage here. If we were the great readers we think we are, we’d probably have noticed this and not thought it some complex metaphor. Oh, well…
So I run into this fun paradox: the people who think they know the most, understand the best, struggle the hardest with the Scriptures; while those who know they don’t know doodley-do about “difficult literature” they sail right through with Jesus and His Story! He kept saying something about “unless you become like little children you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. Turns out, Jesus really meant all that stuff! Turns out, I should have stuck with those Jonny Quest, Batman, and Spider-Man comics that I really loved best as a kid (and Narnia and Wind in the Willows!) and I might not have needed all that seminary and div school time. Oh, well… Learn from my mistakes, kids and don’t try Nietzsche at home!
It was probably because the apostles had read the Scriptures carefully before they got up with Jesus, had tackled it like any other “difficult/great literature” that Jesus totally confused them for three years, yet at the same time remained uniquely, strangely compelling to them. If only they’d stuck with their comic books and fishing and hedge fund management gigs, it all might have come so much easier to them. Oh, well… Jesus seems to enjoy a challenge. He seems to have been especially pleased with that look on their faces when He put that little kid in their midst as they argued about who was greatest/sharpest and went: “Become like that and you’ll be getting towards greatness…”
But not as much I think as He loved the look on their faces when He passed through the locked door and stood in the midst and said “Peace to you!” The terror and the fright, the shock and awe, the high squeaky girly voices going “Ahhh! A ghost!”—priceless. OK. I’m also a fan. Because I do like a good ghost story and when they think “ghost” they’re doing it, again. So Jesus says, real laid back and laconic-like, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet that I AM Myself! Handle Me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” And, after showing them His hands and feet, you, dear reader, will have noticed what did the trick, what opened their minds? Jesus goes “Have you any food here?” And they gave Him a piece of broiled fish and some HoneyCombTM (I didn’t realize they had Post cereal back then, but cool, right?) and ate in their presence.
This is what does the trick! When Jesus teaches and eats in our presence. When He tells His Story as only He can tell it, and sits down and eats with us in our presence: this opens the mind as nothing else can or will.
Here’s what the Liturgy does: it makes Jesus stands in our midst, unseen, troubling to “difficult-lit” fueled sensibilities, our modern madness, and tells us the Story of His suffering and dying and rising and how the Cross is the Door to Another World, a better one, the real Narnia where every chapter is better than the last and has no Ending. And as He tells the Story, He sits at Table and eats with us. And our eyes are opened when He breaks bread with us as with the Emmaus two. Finalist, we recognize Him, that His flesh and blood is that of God Himself and is our ticket to the Better World of His Heavenly Kingdom.
Teaching and eating with Jesus. That’s the way minds open to grasp the Story. Not by hard study or clever theories—by Word, Supper. You’re so analytical! Sometimes you just have to let Art flow over you! Jesus bursts through all the walls of wisdom we’ve built up to shield ourselves, scares the beejeebers out of us, then tells us a children’s Story, takes some bread and wine, sits us down and says: “Take, eat; this is My Body, this is My Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins”. Just so, only so, the Door to His World opens and Peace surpassing understanding guards heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.