A Faith That Does Justice engages The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola[1] (Exercises) to discern God’s will and live faith in action on behalf of all God’s people. When appropriately adapted they offer a way for all people of good will to do the same.

The Fourth Week invites us to share the disciples’ experience of Jesus’ resurrection.[2] Here we present the major part of Jesus’ Appearance to the Eleven in the second ending of Mark’s gospel (16:9-19) and supplement it with Luke’s final appearance story.

Like the two other appearance stories in the second ending to Mark’s gospel, this final one is also briefly stated.

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it. (Mk 16:14-16, 19-20)

Luke (24:36-53) offers a more expanded version of this same scene, using material not available to the scribe who wrote Mark’s second ending. It unfolds in three parts.

(While the Eleven and the two disciples from Emmaus were talking about all that had occurred), Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence (24:36-43).

This scene takes place in Jerusalem the evening of the same day that some of the disciples discovered the empty tomb. Suddenly, Jesus appeared to his disciples who were overcome with a multitude of emotions. They were startled and terrified, frightened and doubtful, joyful and disbelieving, and all the while wondering what was happening as Jesus spoke to them. “Peace be with you,” he told them, a gesture of forgiveness, before showing them his hands and feet, and eating broiled fish in their presence. For Luke, Jesus’ eating with the disciples intends to convey the disciples were experiencing his real identity and physical presence among them.[3]

Then Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (26: 44-49)

Jesus instructed the disciples about the Jewish scriptures as they pertained to him being the messiah, the one who would suffer and rise from the dead. He then commissioned them to preach forgiveness of sins and God’s salvific plan for history in his name to all nations after they received “power from on high” in Jerusalem. That power was the grace of the Spirit that had rested upon Jesus during his life on this earth. It would now lead the disciples to continue his work, even if it is not explicitly stated here (see Acts 1:8, 4-5; 2:2-4, 32-33).[4]

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Lk 24:50-53)

Having calmed the disciples’ fears, forgiven them, showed them that he was the fulfillment of the scriptures, and commissioned them to continue his work empowered by the Spirit, Jesus left them via his ascension into heaven in glory as they returned to the temple to worship him.[5]

Taken together, Jesus’ resurrection and appearances stories offer forgiveness, healing and a call to mission. In effect, they challenge us to live as risen people by simultaneously placing us in discontinuity and continuity with the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

On the one hand, today we live in radical discontinuity with the disciples’ claim to have seen the risen Jesus. These appearances were unique in history and lasted only a short time. Moreover, it was only the privileged few, the disciples, who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus, glimpsing something of the parousia. We can only live with the hope that one-day we will experience the risen and glorified Christ ourselves.

On the other hand, the resurrection and appearance stories offer continuity with us today through the presence of the Spirit. Luke’s gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul’s letters to the churches, all speak of the Spirit’s presence to Jesus, to his disciples after his ascension, and to his followers in the ongoing flow of history. It is the Spirit that allows us to bridge the gap between the resurrection and our time by making known the eschatological reality of the risen Christ, both specifically and historically, through the following of the crucified Jesus in history. For this reason, discipleship with Jesus today means building upon his mission “in a risen manner”, that is, by living eschatological fullness, while taking on the suffering that arises from those who oppose it, even if that means having to continually revisit his passion and death.[6]

In the final analysis, Jesus’ crucifixion-resurrection is the ultimate revelation of God’s presence in history. From a historical perspective, God never demanded Jesus’ sacrifice for the atonement of humanity’s sins, nor did God abandon Jesus on the cross. Rather, God suffered alongside Jesus and identified with his struggle against evil. With Jesus’ free self-offering unto death and his subsequent resurrection, God vindicated Jesus’ life and work on behalf of the kingdom of God, while still offering salvation to the culpable. It was in this way that God’s infinite love and sense of justice were revealed to a world so in need of redemption.[7]

Finally, if we seek historical traces of Jesus resurrection today, it is to be found in the same places and among the same people where his crucifixion continues to occur, among the poor, oppressed and marginalized of this world. These suffering people not only witness to our world today Jesus’ unjust suffering and death, they also witness to his resurrection. They are, in effect, resurrection people who continue to live with hope against all hope, to love despite being unjustly treated, to trust in the midst of their fears, and to be joyful despite their grief, all the while believing in a God who has promised to triumph over evil and restore new life to those who have known only suffering and death.[8]

Let us pray for the courage to seek God’s will and remain faithful to Jesus’ call to take up our cross and follow him in this world. In doing so, let us witness to a world where God’s love, compassion and justice will one-day reign over all of creation. May we also pray for the courage to move beyond the comfort of our lives to enter into a world of human suffering in solidarity with the crucified people of history who continue to witness to the risen Christ’s presence and offer of salvation to the entire world.

[1] The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are a series of Christian contemplations and meditations written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th‑century Spanish priest and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Divided into four thematic “weeks” of variable length, they are designed to be carried out over a period of approximately 30 days. They were composed to help participants in religious retreats to discern the will of God and commit to following Jesus in this world whatever the cost. When appropriately adapted, they can also help people of other faith traditions discern God’s will and engage problems facing society in the 21st century.

[2] R.E. Brown, “The Gospel of John: XIII-XXI,” in: W.F. Albright and D.N. Freedman (eds.) The Anchor Bible, Vol. 29A, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1970), 966. The resurrection is an eschatological experience that can never be adequately expressed in words. Nevertheless, Christians have attempted to explain Jesus’ victory over death in several ways, including: 1) referring to the risen Jesus as the high priest who entered the heavenly holy of holies with his own blood that was shed in sacrifice. This view offers a direct progression from crucifixion to ascension without an intervening act of resurrection (Heb 4:14; 6:19-20; 9:1-28); and 2) referring to the risen Jesus through, (a) short formulae that are believed to provide the earliest information about the resurrection experience (1 Cor 15:3-8), and (b) appearance stories in the gospels and Acts of the Apostles.

[3] J.A. Fitzmyer, “The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV,” in: W.F. Albright and D.N. Freedman (eds.) Anchor Bible, Vol. 28 A, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1986), 1554, 1572-75. In addition to Luke’s exaggerated description of the disciples’ emotional response to the risen Jesus, his eating in their presence has apologetic overtones, as Luke defends the notion of the real identity and physical reality of the risen Jesus.

[4] Fitzmyer, “The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV,” 1578-82.

[5] Ibid. 1586-89.

[6] Sobrino, Christ the Liberator, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001), 12-14. Sobrino speaks of the triumph of the resurrection, living the “eschatological fullness” of time, as including hope (against resignation, disenchantment, triviality), freedom (against the bonds that history imposes on love, such as risks, fears, selfishness), and joy (against grief).

[7] Pagola, Jesus: An Historical Approximation, 407-12. Jesus’ “atonement” for the sins of humanity draws from Isaiah’s “suffering servant,” a bloody sacrifice of a righteous and innocent man (nation) that carries the guilt and sin of others, and in doing so becomes the source of their salvation.

[8] Ellacuría, “The Crucified People,” Mysterium Liberationis, Fundamental Concepts of Liberation Theology, 580-603. See also J. Sobrino, Christ the Liberator, 24-26, 54-78.