3rd Sunday of Easter April 18, 2021
The First Reading
This passage from Acts takes place immediately following a healing miracle that was performed by Peter. Peter then uses the miracle event as a catalyst for teaching the Gospel of the Risen Christ. For Peter, the miracle serves as evidence that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and his nature as God’s only Son are both true. He goes even further by placing Jesus in the company of legendary Jewish figures such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in an effort to demonstrate to his audience that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan for salvation. The healing miracles that the apostles were able to perform in Jesus name were seen as evidence of God’s vindication of Jesus in spite of the horrible death he died.
Peter notes that Jesus is the “author” of life. The Greek word being translated as author in this text more clearly means “captain” or “leader.” Understanding it this way allows us to contrast Jesus with Moses. Moses was the first prophet and was highly esteemed by the Israelites. However, Moses foretold of another prophet who would be even greater than he. The fulfillment of that promise is Christ Jesus. Whereas Moses led the people of Israel to new life by freeing them from the slavery in Egypt and bringing them to the Promised Land, Jesus leads us to new life by freeing us from the slavery of sin and death and leading us to the promise of eternal life. At the same time, Jesus is also the author of life. As the Word Incarnate, all life, all being, came to be through him.
Being sensitive to his audience, Peter makes excuses for their ignorance in putting Jesus to death, but he also claims that now that they have heard the Gospel message of Christ Jesus they can no longer plead ignorance. They are now accountable and must turn towards God through metanoia (the complete change of one’s life to live in accord with God’s will). This bears serious implications for us living 2000 years later, for we too have heard the Gospel message. Not only have we heard the message, but we have also responded, “yes” to that message through our baptism. We too like our brothers and sister who lived 2000 years ago are accountable for how we live our lives. We cannot plead ignorance claiming that we didn’t know any better. The Gospel message we have embraced reveals the Truth. Therefore, as we continue to explore the meaning of the resurrection during the Easter Season, we must contemplate how we have responded to the Gospel message. How has the Gospel message changed our lives? Have we made every effort to change our lives so that we live more in harmony with God’s will? What more needs to be done?
Our sole purpose in life is to come to know, love, and serve God so that we may live in his eternal love when our lives here on earth come to an end. The goal of our life is to become a saint. St. Therese of Lisieux said it well in a letter she wrote to a young missionary priest by the name of Abbe Maurice Bellieresaid, "You cannot be half saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all." A half hearted reponse to the Gospel or living the Gospel when its convenient will never suffice - ever! Thankful we have a God whose love for us is so great, that he is willing to do all the heavy lifiting in bringing us to perfect holiness. All we need do is have a heart and mind that is willing to cooperate with and participate in his efforts.
John doesn’t pull any punches in his writings and this pericope is no exception. John was waging a war of words with the local synagogue at the time he wrote his Gospel and with Gnostic Christians when he wrote this letter. The Gnostics believed that they had special privileged knowledge of God, and because Jesus died for them they did not need to be concerned with their behavior. Christ won the victory, and all that they need do is reap the rewards. What's more, is that Gnostics denied that Jesus was God, rather he was just a man who had achieved his full potential by becoming divine. Good Christians who believed in Jesus were sinless according to the Gnostics. There are many Christians today who have taken up these Gnostic notions, but even a casual reading of early Christian writers and Church Fathers will demonstrate that such teachings were never a part of the Magesterium of the Church.
One can see right away the inherent danger of such a position. There is no accountability for how one lives his or her life. Gnostics thought was Greek in origin. As such, it clearly shows a lack of understanding as to what “knowing” God actually meant in Jewish thought. The Jewish understanding of knowing someone implied that you lived in a right relationship with the individual. The Bible clearly defines the nature of living in a right relationship with someone. Those who are in a right relationship with God love him with their entire being. Those who live in a right relationship with others show genuine love for them too. We can only love God if we come to truly “know” God. How does one go about showing their love for God and neighbor? By keeping the commandments.
Like last week’s second reading from 1 John, keeping the commandments are not burdensome if we do so out of love for God, just like making sacrifices and going the extra mile for those whom we love would not be considered burdensome. Love makes all things bearable. Therefore, if we claim to “know” Christ Jesus, then our keeping the commandments of God (i.e., the Law given at Sinai) and the commandments of Jesus (i.e., the Beatitudes, the Great Commandments, etc.) is the clearest and most natural way we express our love that comes from “knowing” him. If we say that we know Jesus but do nothing to change how we live then John is right in claiming that we are liars. Words matter, but our actions matter more.
The Gospels reveal that those who encountered Jesus during his ministry were changed forever. It is the same for each of us. We cannot claim to know Jesus without our being changed through that encounter. We encounter Jesus in the sacraments, and most profoundly in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. As disciples we bear Christ to the world and allow others to encounter him through our very person. If we claim to know Christ, but continue to live in sin, then we are indeed liars. If we think that accepting Christ Jesus as our Savior is all we need to do to be saved, then we are fools. What we need to ask ourselves is, "Am I living in a right relationship with Christ?" If not, then I need to ask him for the grace to turn away from my sin and live the Gospel. If we truly accept Christ as our Lord and our God, then where's the evidence? How has our life been changed?
This Gospel story takes place immediately following the two disciples encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It is a story with which every Christian is intimately familiar. As the two disciples relate their experience, Jesus appears before the disciples, greets them with words of peace, and they react as if they were seeing a ghost. They are startled and terrified. This is an important scene in the Gospel passage. Jesus asks them “Why are you troubled?” There are only two instances in the Gospel where the Greek word “tarasso” (i.e., troubled) is used. This is the second instance. The first is when Zechariah is informed that Elizabeth is with child. Both instances reflect situations in which the figures are experiencing grave doubt and uncertainty. The disciples in the upper room were certainly experiencing doubt and uncertainty over the events that had transpired that first Easter Sunday. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Could it be true?
Jesus allayed their doubt and uncertainty by proving he’s no ghost. He lets them see first hand that he is flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone. He even invites them to touch him. We all experience moments or periods of doubt and uncertainly in our faith relationship with God, and that’s okay. If we bring those doubts and uncertainties before God you can rest assured that God will take whatever steps are necessary to allay our doubts too. Doubt breeds fear and fear keeps us from experiencing God’s presence in the here and now.
The second item of importance in this Gospel is the often-overlooked request that Jesus makes for something to eat. The disciples, we are told, provide him with a piece of baked fish, and that Jesus eats it in front of them. “So what?” one might say. Jesus is merely providing further evidence that he is real. True, but there is something much more profound going on. In Luke’s version of the Last Supper, Jesus states during the blessing of the Passover meal that he shall not eat again until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God (22:16). What does Jesus do when he appears to the disciples? He eats again. Jesus' request for and eating food before his disciples serves as a visible sign that the Kingdom of God is now fulfilled. The Kingdom of God isn’t just at hand. It is NOW!
Jesus then goes on to explain how he fulfilled what was written in scripture about the Christ, and then concludes by stating that the disciples “are witnesses of these things.” To be a witness, one has to be called. Think of all of the judge shows or court related dramas on TV. When the case begins, the judge always instructs the plaintiff to “call your first witness.” The Easter Season boldly reminds us in readings such as these that we too are disciples of Jesus, and are thereby bound to the same commands Jesus made of the first disciples. As witnesses to the glory of Christ Jesus, we too are called upon to spread the Good News throughout the world. We cannot live our faith in a vacuum. We must move beyond our pew and out into the world, actively living our faith so as to change the world by making the Kingdom of God manifest. Nothing less will do.
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