Third Sunday of Easter – B

When Jesus appeared to His disciples, did He still have His human body? Some people say that it wasn’t really a human body but some sort of spiritual “body” that replaced it. Thomas Aquinas insists: “In order for it to be a true resurrection, it was necessary for the same body of Christ to be once more united with the same soul … Christ’s body after His Resurrection was a true body, and of the same nature as it was before” (3a. 54, 1).

As Thomas affirms, the Resurrection wouldn’t be a true resurrection unless Jesus’ human body was really raised.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Luke 24:35-48, when Jesus suddenly appears to the disciples gathered together, they are afraid because they think that He has come to them as a spirit from the world of the dead.

Jesus asks why they are disturbed and questioning. He calls their attention to His body that still bears the marks of His crucifixion: “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; handle Me, and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Lk 24:39).

Luke tells us “They still disbelieved for joy and wondered” (Lk 24:41). Jesus asks if they have anything to eat. They give him a piece of fish which He eats.

The fact that Jesus really has His human body says something about the Incarnation. When Jesus took our body, it was not the way that we put on old clothes to clean something or to work in the garden, for a period of time. Jesus really took our humanity. This reveals the value of our humanity and of our bodies to God.

Thomas recalls that St. Augustine had said: “After the Resurrection our Savior had flesh which was spiritual but was true flesh” (The City of God, XIII, 22). Thomas asserts: “Christ’s body after the Resurrection was composed of all the elements and properties necessary for the nature of a human body. Therefore, it could be touched because of this very nature as human” (3a. 54, 2, ad 2).

Jesus’ risen body was more than the external body, as Thomas teaches that every part of Jesus’ body was raised: “It is evident that flesh, bones, blood and other similar elements pertain to the nature of a human body. Therefore all of these belong to Christ’s risen body and they belong to it in a fully integral manner without any diminution whatsoever. Otherwise, if what had fallen through death had not been completely restored, His resurrection would not have been perfect. Christ promised those faithful to Him, ‘Every hair of your head has been counted; and not a hair of your head will be lost’ (Lk 21:18)… “(3a. 54, 3).

Jesus’ entire body was raised: “The body which He took to Himself in His conception was ordered to mortal life, and that body which He took up once more in His Resurrection was ordered to immortal life” (3a. 54, 3).

Thomas reiterates this principle: “All of those elements which are necessary for the truth and integrity of human nature also belong to this risen body” (3a. 54, 3).

The Resurrection of Jesus’ body promises us that our bodies will also truly rise. Thomas states: “Flesh in its true physical reality will possess the kingdom of God; in the Lord’s words, ‘A ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have’ (Lk 24:39)” (3a 54, 3, ad 1).

When Jesus appears, the disciples don’t always recognize Him. For instance, Mary Magdalene thinks He is a gardener (Jn 20:15); the two disciples who meet Him on the way to Emmaus only recognize Him when He breaks the bread (Lk 24:30-31); the disciples in a boat at the Sea of Tiberias do not realize that the stranger on the shore is Jesus (Jn 21:4).

Of course, they did not expect to see Jesus. More importantly, His body had been glorified. Jesus’ glorious body also offers us hope, as St. Paul declares: “He will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of His glorious body” (Phil 3:21).

Nevertheless, even though Jesus’ body is glorified, He retains His wounds which He shows to the disciples in this Gospel: “See My hands and My feet” (Lk 24:39). In John’s Gospel, when Jesus appears to the disciples on the day of the Resurrection, “He showed them His hands and His side” (Jn 20:20). A week later, He invites Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand and place it in My side” (Jn 20:27). The wounds show clearly that Jesus who stands before them is the same Jesus who was crucified.

While Jesus’ wounds might be necessary to identify Him to His disciples, after these appearances it might seem that Jesus’ glorified body should absorb the wounds. Thomas agrees with a tradition of the Fathers of the Church that Jesus retained His wounds in His glorious body: “It was fitting that in the Resurrection Christ’s soul take up once more a body with wounds. This was first of all for the sake of His own glory” (3a. 54, 4).

Thomas recalls the words of St. Bede, “That there might be a perpetual sign of His glorious triumph” (3a. 54, 4). Augustine proposes that the wounds of the martyrs will likewise shine eternally (City of God, XXII, 19).

Thomas affirms: “These wounds are ordered to strengthen the hearts of the disciples” in their faith in the Resurrection. In addition, the wounds are proper to Jesus in His role as our advocate, as St. Bede writes, “… that when He pleads for us with the Father, He may always show the manner of death He endured for us” (On the Gospel of Luke, VI).

In addition, the wounds manifest to us Jesus’ mercy, as St. Bede states, “that He may convince those redeemed in His blood, how mercifully they have been helped, as He exposes before them the traces of the same death” (On the Gospel of Luke, VI).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas give the part of the Summa, followed by the question (in this article, question 54), followed by the article, of which we have looked at articles 1 through 4. When Thomas is responding to an objection that he has raised in the beginning of the article, he uses “ad,” meaning “to,” followed by the number of the objection.

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