Saturday, 21 April 2012

Ghost stories Luke 24

Luke 24: 36-48
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 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.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke%2024&version=NIV



            I have to admit that I find ghost stories really interesting. I'm not exactly sure what to do with ghosts theologically, but I like hearing stories about them because they point to reality being deeper and more complex than we often think. There is more to reality than meets the eye.

            One of my favorite ghost stories was a story I saw on TV. The show interviewed an older retired man, Jim, who always woke up earlier than his wife, Kay. Jim had retired from the military and he was a real no-nonsense kind of guy. If I was to guess at his worldview I would say he was a materialist- what you see is what you get- that's it. There is no depth to reality beyond what can be measured and observed. So, when his wife started talking about experiencing strange things in the house he really passed them off as her overactive imagination.

            One morning Jim was up early reading the paper downstairs and Kay was still asleep upstairs. If Kay needed him upstairs she would often ring a little ceramic bell. Well, one morning he heard the bell and he went up the stairs, which he was accustomed to doing when he heard the bell, but this time he found his wife still sleeping. She didn't ring the bell. This happened three times in total on different mornings. So Jim and Kay decided that he wouldn't come up the stairs anymore unless she rung the bell three times. The next morning he heard the bell ring three times. He walked up the stairs to find his wife still asleep. She didn't ring the bell. He walked out of the room baffled and just then the bell rang again. At this point telling the story this retired military man broke into tears.

            I'm not saying that what he experienced was a ghost. What I'm fascinated by is Jim's reaction to this experience. Why would he cry about a ringing bell? No one was hurt.  It seems like a silly thing to become emotional about, especially for a tough ex-military man. ... What he was actually bothered by was the destruction of his worldview. Suddenly he came to believe that there was more than just the physical universe. Suddenly he came to believe that there were forces active in the world that he couldn't explain. His tears were because his materialistic worldview was smashed to pieces and he had to find a new way to look at the world that took into account these new experiences.

            We all have a concept of how the world works, and it can be painful if that concept is broken. Sometimes we call this concept a "worldview". It is how we view the world. It is the assumptions we have about life. It tells us what is valuable and where authority comes from. For example, if someone has a materialistic worldview they would basically believe that 'what you see is what you get', there is nothing more. All that exists is the material universe. If it can't be measured or observed it doesn't exist. ... There are plenty of other worldviews. There is a Buddhist worldview, a Hindu worldview, a consumerist worldview, a postmodern worldview. Basically a worldview is how you understand the world you're living in. It helps you make priorities and it helps you decide what is valuable. These worldviews will often overlap to varying degrees.

             The experience Jim had with the ringing bell was painful for him because it didn't fit into his worldview. If we have experiences that don't fit our worldview we either have to twist our experience, or we have to go through the pain of having our worldview shatter and find another worldview that can account for the new experience. So Jim could have really tried to convince himself that he was hearing things, or that he was experiencing hallucinations and had a medical problem. If Jim convinced himself of that he wouldn't have to change his materialistic worldview- 'what you see is what you get'. However, Jim believed this experience was the real thing and so needed a new worldview that includes mysterious events like his ringing bell. His materialistic worldview shattered and Jim entered into a new worldview that included a little more mystery.  We sometimes have to change our worldview to account for new experiences that don't fit into our old worldview.

            The disciples had a similar experience. After Jesus has been killed on a cross and placed in a tomb, suddenly three days later they experience Jesus present with them. ... He has died, and now they see him speaking to them. To make Jesus fit into their worldview they had to label him as a "ghost". That's the only way they could make sense of their experience.

            If our worldview is the way we see the world- the way we process the world- then it's natural that we will take whatever our experience is and try to fit that experience into our worldview. So we really can't blame the disciples for thinking Jesus was a ghost. Jesus died and now they see and hear him. In their worldview, that means "ghost". So Jesus challenges their perception. In their understanding a ghost isn't solid, so he gets them to touch him and see that he has flesh and bones. He shows them his wounds from the cross. A ghost can't eat, so he asks to eat something and they give him a piece of fish, which he eats in front of them. Suddenly Jesus doesn't fit into their worldview as a ghost anymore. Ghosts can't be solid and they don't eat food.  Their worldview has to shatter and be remade to take the resurrected Jesus into account.

            We sometimes do this as well. We try to make Jesus fit into our worldview. I remember asking a friend of mine who doesn't go to church what he thought Jesus was like and he said, "Well, I think he would just be a humble, ordinary, good guy. He'd be easy to talk to." Basically he was describing himself. He fit Jesus into his worldview. (Notice that one of the consequences of that is that if Jesus is like me, then I'm okay just as I am. I don't have to change.)

            Jesus is often held up as a beautiful person and a great teacher and so there can be a tendency for us to want to claim him as our own no matter what our worldview is. There are some Hindus who will fit Jesus into their worldview by seeing him as a Sadhu, a holy man. Muslims fit Jesus into their worldview by calling him a prophet.  There are political activists who fit Jesus into their worldview by making Jesus into a political activist. If we twist Jesus into our worldview our worldview will remain unchallenged and we will remain unchanged. ... But, Jesus didn't come to fit into our worldviews- leaving us where we are. If we accept Jesus as he is, he will shatter our worldview into a million pieces. Which is what happened to the disciples. Our worldview is too limiting for Jesus.         

            We really can't make Jesus fit our worldview unless we dramatically alter who Jesus is- and that ultimately becomes a lie, and maybe even an idol. The only worldview that fits with Jesus is the worldview that has him at its centre. When we try to fit Jesus into a worldview something else is at the centre. The only worldview Jesus can exist in comfortably is a worldview he creates, where he's at the centre.  And if he's at the centre then we are the ones who have to change.

            Under the old worldview the disciples are rightfully scared. Under their old worldview Jesus is a false messiah because he didn't take control of Jerusalem and run the Romans out of town. Under their old worldview they should be scared. They were on the wrong side of the law, and maybe even opposing God. But, Jesus gives them a new worldview with him in the centre. Under that new worldview they don't have to be afraid, but they do have to change.

            After convincing his disciples that he wasn't a ghost Jesus says 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.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things."

            Suddenly they came to a new understanding of everything they previously thought they new. They entered a new worldview with Jesus at its centre. The Scriptures were about him. Their minds were opened. As one commentator puts it, "something new had occurred in Christ. This 'something new' was not to be contained or comprehended by current modes of thinking about nature."[1] And now they were called to be different. They were called to be a people of hope. They were to spread the message of God's peace- Repentance and the forgiveness of sin. And they are to be witnesses to the world of the truth of God's worldview, which is that Jesus is God incarnate. The world was made for him, and through him, and that all things find their purpose in him. This is the Christian worldview and we are continuously needing to conform ourselves to it.

            We all operate according to a worldview. What we truly deep down believe about the world is what will determine our actions. That will determine who we are.  When we run into one of Jesus' hard teachings like "love your enemy", or "do good to those who hate you", or "do not judge", that is often when we recognize our need to readjust our worldview. Something besides Jesus might be trying to sneak into the centre. When we have a teaching that seems impossible, or impractical, it might just be that we need to readjust our worldview. We need to reorient our worldview around Jesus.  

            The disciples had to reorient their understanding of the world around Jesus. It is not an easy things to do, but that is what it means to truly be a disciple of Jesus. They had to be willing to give up their old ways of looking at their lives and how the world worked. Jesus called them into a new way to look at the world, and that meant becoming a new kind of people in the world, who were filled with Good News to share.





[1] Stephen Cooper, Feasting on the Word

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