I wish all of you could spend just one day as a priest. When I go out in public, I am always amazed at how much respect I receive. One of the more interesting situations is how people change their language when I am around. Jan and I have some family members who like to use colorful language. But when they came to visit us, they watched their language the entire time that they were here. I have also had this experience when I play golf. My fellow golfers have often told me how they change their language when I am part of the group. The reaction to a bad shot is not so explicit. It is not that I say something. I have heard bad language before and I am not some prude that believes people must behave just because I am around. It is just that they respect my position. But I do like it when people watch their language whether it is because of me or not. I don’t think bad words are necessary to explain our feelings. It is just that some people have gotten used to using those kinds of words.
Today, I ask you to think about how you behave when you are around other people. Are you impacted by their behavior? How do you impact them? Does it matter who is present to determine how we behave?
Today, I am thinking about the various encounters that people had with Jesus and with the disciples. If people change when they are around me, can you imagine how they must have acted when Jesus was with them? Not as much as you might think.
The first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. Let me give you a little background. Peter and John were going to the temple late one day. They entered the city of Jerusalem and a man who could not walk stopped them and asked for help. Peter told him that they had no money to give him but said instead, “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk”. He helped the man onto his feet and the man followed Peter and John into the temple. The Jewish people were astonished that the man had been healed. Peter uses this opportunity to proclaim the good news of Jesus. I have the impression that the common folk who heard this story marveled at the power of Jesus Christ. But “the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So they arrested them.” In the presence of the miraculous power of Jesus, the leaders of the temple felt threatened and they decided to stop the threat by arresting Peter and John. How would you have acted if you had been there?
Now, I want to discuss with you the visit of Jesus with his disciples after his resurrection. Today we read the story from the point of view of Luke. I cannot help but remind you that the passage just before today’s gospel is the story of the Walk to Emmaus. We only read it once every three years and I wish that we would read it more often. In that story, Jesus joins two of the disciples on their walk. They tell him all about their sadness that Jesus was crucified. They have heard rumors that Jesus has risen from the dead but they aren’t sure. They don’t recognize Jesus until the walk is completed and they are sharing a meal with him.
In the dialogue, I hear the disciples focusing on their concerns and not really looking to find Jesus. It takes a long time before they realize Jesus is with them. Their inability to understand scripture seems to hold them back. Have you ever struggled to “see’ Jesus in your life because you were too concerned with your own problems?
Those two disciples who encountered Jesus on the Walk and the meal run back to Jerusalem and tell everyone that they had seen Jesus. Almost immediately, Jesus appears again, this time in the locked room. The actual sentence goes like this, “While they were standing around and talking, Jesus himself stood among them.” Everyone was startled and terrified, thinking they had seen a ghost. Jesus was present. How might you react if Jesus came into this room right now? Would you be afraid? Would you recognize Jesus?
Jesus asked them why they doubted that he had risen from the dead. I remind you that the disciples often had doubts about Jesus even after he rose from the dead. Would we have doubts? How are we like the disciples? What is it that causes us to have doubts? After all, we have the experience and knowledge of years to accept the fact that Jesus has risen. And yet aren’t there times when we wonder whether it really happened? Well it really did happen. I am reassured by the appearances of Jesus not just to the disciples but also to us.
Can you consider what it means that Jesus comes to us? For I believe that Jesus still appears in our midst. Matthew wrote about it. He said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Paul wrote in the letter to the Philippians that “ Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. For The Lord is near.” Thomas Merton once wrote, ““God, who is everywhere, never leaves us. Yet He seems sometimes to be present, sometimes to be absent. If we do not know Him well, we do not realize that He may be more present to us when He is absent than when He is present.” When Jesus appeared to the disciples he offered them peace. I say that Jesus comes to be with us and offers us peace.
When I began today, I mentioned how some people change their behavior when I am around. I think a better question is how do we change our behavior when Jesus is around? And then, when we realize that Jesus is always around, how might that impact us?
There is an acronym that has been used in the last few years WWJD, what would Jesus do? It is a good thought for us to have. Today, I prefer the question what would I do if Jesus were here? And then I realize that Jesus is always here and it helps me to remember how I should be all the time.
Another way to look at this is to remember that we are made in the image of God. We then reflect God’s image to others. I often think about the fact that our behavior influences the behavior of other people. Sometimes we know exactly how our behavior has impacted others. At other times, our actions may not show fruit for a long time and sometimes we never know that we have impacted another person.
The same is true for how others impact us. We often say to children that they should choose their friends carefully. Choosing friends who are bad will lead children into some bad behavior. That is why we choose good friends. Jesus can be found in others just as sometimes people see Jesus in us.
Jesus appeared to many of his disciples after he rose from the dead. The apostles were frightened when they first saw Jesus. They didn’t even recognize him at first. He must have looked different than what they experienced before his resurrection. Perhaps he was taking on the mantle of divinity more than the mantle of humanity. Whatever the change was, we are informed that Jesus was still human, not like a ghost. Jesus’ visits made a lasting impression on the disciples. They may not have responded immediately but before long they went out into the world and proclaimed the story of Jesus. Their response may have been fear and amazement at first but eventually it turned into outspoken evangelism.
Today, let us open our souls to the presence of Jesus. We may at first have our doubts, we may simply be amazed, we may not even recognize that Jesus is there. Perhaps the appearance of Jesus will eventually change our behavior as it did his first followers. Through the power of Jesus we have become children of God, just as we read in 1st John this morning. It is a sign of God’s love for us. John wrote, “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” His presence changes us. His actions help us to be different. We are a people set apart, a people who live as if Jesus is with us each day on our journey. May God bless us and continue to be with us always. Amen.