Easter, the Third Sunday

Cry out with joy to God, all the earth; O sing to the glory of His Name. O render Him glorious praise (cf. Psalm 66:1-2).

May Your people exult for ever, O God, in renewed youthfulness of spirit, so that, rejoicing now in the restored glory of our adoption we may look forward in confident hope to the rejoicing of the day of Resurrection. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Let Your face shine on us. (Psalm 4:7a).

“While they were still speaking about this, He stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” But they were startled (πτοηθέντες, ptoethentes) and terrified (ἔμφοβοι, emphoboi) and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled (τεταραγμένοι, tetaragmenoi)? And why do questions (διαλογισμοὶ, dialogismoi) arise in your hearts? (Luke 24:36-38)” … Then he opened (διήνοιξεν, dienoizen) their minds to understand (συνιέναι, sunienai) the Scriptures (Luke 24:45).”

In the end, the disciples really did not grasp Jesus’ teaching about His Resurrection. Even though He prepared them for the Cross and Resurrection, these teachings apparently never connected deeply in the hearts of the disciples. This is evident by their response to the Risen Lord: startled (πτοηθέντες, ptoethentes from πτοέω, ptoeo) and terrified (ἔμφοβοι, emphoboi from φόβος, phobos). Both πτοέω and φόβος signal a response to a perceived threat to life. Translated here as “startled,” πτοέω is a rather graphic verb indicating that one’s world is collapsing, and doing so rather quickly. All that a person has used to define existence no longer holds up to support life. All of the connections that one has formed unwind and render life uncertain and unsteady as stability crumbles into a pile of ruin. In such a precarious state, one has to decide: stay and fight the threat or flee with the intent of putting great distance between you and the threat. While the noun φόβος is commonly translated “fear,” in antiquity its verb-form part of a group of words that mean “to flee.” Fear, a response to that which is recognized as a threat to life, triggers – often automatically – some action involving fight or flight.

The Sacred text clearly presents the disciples “startled (πτοέω)” and “terrified (φόβος).” Yet examine Jesus’ question to them. He does not ask why are you “startled (πτοέω)”? He does not ask why are you “terrified (φόβος)”? He asks “Why are you troubled (τεταραγμένοι, tetaragmenoi from ταράσσω tarasso). Jesus knows that something is not right in the lives of the disciples. His question to them “Why are you troubled?” is actually a declaration to them that there is no threat to life. In asking “Why are you troubled?” Jesus is actually helping His disciples to perceive clearly the state of life. Life is not falling apart. There is no need to fight or flee. There is a need, however, “to understand (συνιέναι, sunienai from συνίημι suniemi).”

Being troubled as expressed by ταράσσω is a common response in many biblical episodes when God or an angel visits humanity. Early in Luke, both Zechariah and Mary are “troubled” by Gabriel’s visit and attempt to resolve the situation by asking questions. The disciples in the boat “are troubled” when Jesus comes walking to them on the water in Mark and Matthew. In John, Jesus directs his disciples ‘not to be troubled’ by having faith in Him. In the biblical era, ταράσσω conveyed the image of water being stirred up. As with any aqueous solution, when water is stirred or agitated, all of the particulate matter gets stirred up as well. What appeared to the senses as calm and clear is now a sea of confusion caused by the murky, gritty sediment swirling round and round. No wonder “troubled waters” became such a metaphor when confusion and uncertainty grip life.

Experience has often demonstrated that when clear water becomes cloudy, it will – many times – become clear again when the source of agitation is removed. For the disciples, their confused state requires ‘an opening that will lead to understanding.’ At the heart of “opening” their minds is literally the action of ‘giving birth.’ When Jesus opened (διήνοιξεν, dienoizen from διανοίγω dianoigo) their minds, this was not a casual planting of a thought or opinion. διανοίγω is used sometimes in antiquity to mean birth, particularly the birth of the biblical “first born.” In this sense, διανοίγω brings the struggle of birth imagery to convey the work that is involved in opening the mind. Yet once opened, the groundwork is then paved for an ongoing journey to and of understanding; for the understanding (συνιέναι, sunienai) that Jesus offers the disciples in their “troubled” state is actually “connecting.” Yes, that sounds awkward but the verb συνιέναι literally means “to put together.” These restored and new connections that Jesus makes for them not only transforms the “troubled” state of their lives, but will enable them to go out on mission filled with confidence to witness to Jesus, Risen Savior and thus allow a bit more of Easter joy to flood the cosmos.

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