In Joy and Disbelief

Reading: Luke 24.36-48
Australian poet, Dorothea McKellar, loved her "sunburnt country" with its "droughts and flooding rains". She could contrast

She saw her country as a

On the other hand, in P.J. Hartigan's poem the farmer Hanrahan had a pessimistic outlook. The discussion after Mass was about the bad season and the drought -

"In God's good time" the rains came -

The rain stopped "in God's good time" and the season was good, but the pessimist was unconvinced -

Those who settled in Australia certainly found conditions very different from what they had left behind. "Flood and fire and famine…" We can look at our circumstances positively or negatively. When we think of folk in western towns, for example - with a succession of droughts and floods - we marvel that some people are able to keep a positive and hopeful attitude.

Somehow our Australian expectation is that things will not - or, at least, may not - turn out well. This is reflected in two of our expressions - "just my luck" and "it's too good to be true"! It is as if we expect things to go wrong and can hardly believe it when they turn out well.

Too good to be true

It was like that in v. 41 of today's reading. Peter had seen Jesus alive. Two disciples had returned from Emmaus with an account of meeting Jesus along the way. Now the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples and showed them his hands and feet - "they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement" (Lk. 24.41).

The Jews had believed that God is the Lord of history - doggedly believed that he was caring for them, his chosen people, even when the evidence seemed to the contrary!

Sometimes that was not easy. Psalm 73 begins with a good correct statement, "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart" (Ps. 73.1). It then goes on to say that it doesn't always seem to happen that way - "But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits... This is what the wicked are like - always carefree, they increase in wealth..." (vv. 2-7, 12).

That's how the disciples must have felt about what happened to Jesus. Think of the conversation on the way to Emmaus. The Stranger seemed not to have heard about the good man Jesus - "Jesus of Nazareth... was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel" (Lk. 24.19-21). They were reflecting what all of Jesus' disciples must have felt about the situation.

Remember Peter's response in Caesarea-Philippi? After Peter's great statement, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt. 16.16), Jesus started to talk about the coming events of cross and resurrection - "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!" (v. 22)

We question why God doesn't step in to avert all our disasters and rescue us at once. But if Jesus is truly "the Christ, the Son of the living God", and suffering and death strike him, we are in a bad way. Perhaps God has deserted us altogether!

But now, what they had least expected - and hadn't even hoped for - had happened. Jesus clearly is alive! We can't believe our eyes! We don't know what to make of it all! We can see clearly that the suffering and death of Jesus was the plot of jealous and evil men. But we still don't grasp how these events can in any sense be the plan of God.

But he is alive! That in itself is just too good to be true!

The Christ must suffer and rise…

Jesus, the Stranger on the road to Emmaus, had said to the two disciples, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And, Luke tells us, "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Lk. 24.25-27).

Now appearing to his disciples in Jerusalem, he said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms" Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day..." (vv. 44-46). How we wish we had this exposition of the message of the Old Testament from the lips of the Lord Jesus himself!

In the Hebrew Bible, the books are arranged into three groups - the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Psalms comes first in the collection of "Writings". So to talk about "in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms" is to refer to the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures. Donald Guthrie comments, "They had probably pondered the same Scriptures many times before, but it had never dawned on them that the Messiah was to suffer. As he expounded these predictions to them, the Cross became less of a tragedy" (Jesus the Messiah, p. 362). We tend to focus on Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 which are almost biographical in their references. But Jesus is saying that the whole message of the Old Testament was pointing to him and his redemptive work - and to his rising again.

Work to do and a Message to tell

Because of these things, there is a message for them to go out and tell. "And repentance and the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (v. 47). They were witnesses of these things and must take the message throughout the world.

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and, with no thought for themselves, went out day and night, tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time, money and effort to support its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little life-saving station grew.

Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The life-saving motif still prevailed in this club's decoration, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held. About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station down the coast. They did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It developed into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown!

Do you know that Christ's work of redemption is complete? that forgiveness of sins is freely offered to all who truly repent? Then what are you prepared to do to help get the message out to others? The Church isn't a comfort club, but a rescue station!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 4 May 2003
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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