We are still in the upper room this Sunday, as if the celebration of our eucharist lodged us with the disciples in a never-ending reunion with the Risen One. We are there as the two disciples return, no doubt breathlessly, with the incredibly wonderful news that they had met Jesus on their way to Emmaus, disheartened after his execution. And they are greeted with the news that he has indeed risen and appeared to Simon – an appearance not included in other accounts of Jesus’ manifestations following the Resurrection, except for a surprising remark by St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (15:5).
Suddenly Jesus is there among them. In both John’s and Luke’s gospels, Jesus first says to his terrified disciples, “Peace be to you.” Then, to their astonished eyes he identifies himself by showing them his hands and feet. Luke does not mention the marks of nails, or the wound in his side that we learn of in John’s gospel, but the inference is clear. “Do not be afraid. It is I.”
Luke does not tell us that the disciples actually touched Jesus, something John dwells on and eventually refers to in the opening verse of his first letter. It hardly needed to be said. Jesus is truly present bodily. He eats before them, a further sign that he is really present, not some figment of their collective imagination. Again, as on the road to Emmaus, he opens their minds to the truth of the scriptures, the good news which is to be preached to all the nations.
To be sure, we could use some good news today. And the gospel message still challenges us to believe in the real presence of Jesus in our lives as we confront violence, hatred, and indifference in so much of our world. His presence is revealed in those lives when we follow his teaching, ultimately and especially in our treatment of the wretched of the earth — the homeless and persecuted, those starved and exploited by the inequity of economic systems gone awry, those imprisoned for whatever reason, refugees, and those who differ because of ethnicity, religion, or gender.
Last Sunday, we learned of divine mercy and human mercy, the evidence of our unity with the Risen One. For “whoever keeps his word, truly has the love of God made perfect in them” – the final line of John’s letter today.
The burden of mercy is often very heavy, as we are witnessing in the efforts of the government to resolve the plight of the refugees at our southern border, especially the thousands of children fleeing violence, crushing poverty, and environmental collapse in much of Central America. Human traffickers have been quick to wrest their last savings from them or their families with false promises of assistance in reaching the promised land. They are often called “coyotes” which is an insult to the animals.
In the Book of Revelation, when John is tallying the crimes of “Babylon,” an undeniable reference to the Roman Empire, he concludes the list of the spoils brought to the city for the amusement or comfort of its merciless citizens with an ominous note, one too often passed over: human lives [Rev. 18:13]. Human trafficking is the final and most grievous of all the sins that lead to the destruction of the empire. It is not only the traffickers who incur the wrath of God, moreover, but all those who benefit from the crime.
In both John’s and Luke’s gospels, Jesus first says to his terrified disciples, “Peace be to you.” Not only that, in the passage of Luke’s gospel we heard today he says that metanoia and the forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem [Luke 24:47]. Jesus does not say “do penance.” Rather, he is again telling us to change our way of thinking — our whole way of seeing reality. And with that, to change our way of living – to do justice, to practice mercy and forgiveness. “Reform your lives!” Peter preaches.
Last Sunday, we heard in the Gospel of John about the mission Jesus gave his disciples on the evening of his resurrection. He breathed the Holy Spirit into them, the Spirit of love and unity, of reconciliation, and forgiveness. Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance that night contains the same lesson, the same command — a complete change of mind and heart expressed in justice, mercy, and forgiveness. That shouldn’t be surprising, because that was what Jesus preached and taught before he was crucified.
Today, as we inevitably turn our attention to the victims of human trafficking, not only along the southern border, but throughout our nation and truly throughout the world, we can do no better than to start with the transformation of our hearts and lives. Where there is peace, there can be justice. But without justice, there will be no true peace.