Reflections for the III Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; I Jn, 2:1-5a; Lk 24:35-48
Homily starter anecdote: The ghost story! There is a true story in Ripley’s Believe It or Not about a judge in Yugoslavia who had an unfortunate accident. He was “electrocuted” when he reached up to turn on the light while standing in the bathtub. His wife found his body sprawled on the bathroom floor. She called for help. Friends and neighbors, police--everyone showed up. He was pronounced dead and taken to the funeral home. The local radio picked up the story and broadcast it all over the air. In the middle of the night, the judge regained consciousness. When he realized where he was, he rushed over to alert the night watchman, who promptly ran off, terrified. The first thought of the judge was to phone his wife and reassure her, using the funeral home phone. But he got no further than, "Hello darling, it’s me," when she screamed and fainted. He tried calling a couple of the neighbors, but they all thought it was some sort of a sick prank. He even went so far as to go to the homes of several friends, but they were all sure he was a ghost and slammed the door in his face. Finally, he was able to call a friend in the next town who hadn't heard of his death. This friend was able to convince his family and other friends that he really was alive. Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus had to convince the disciples that he wasn’t a ghost. He had to dispel their doubts and their fears. He showed them his hands and his feet. He invited them to touch him and see that he was real. And he even ate a piece of cooked fish with them--all to prove that he was alive and not a ghost or spirit. He stood there before them, as real and alive as he had been over the past three years. (http://stjohngrandbay.org/wt/client/v2/story/WT_Story.cfm?SecKey=151 )
Introduction: The common theme of today’s readings is a challenge to our Faith in the living presence of the risen Lord. That Faith should strengthen our Hope in His promises, call us to true repentance for our sins and lead us to bearing witness to Christ by our works of Charity. Does our Faith do that for us? The readings also remind us that the purpose of Jesus’ death and Resurrection was to save us from our sins. Hence, they invite us to make our bearing witness to the risen Lord more effective by repenting of our sins, renewing our lives, and meeting Jesus in the Word of God and at the Eucharistic Table. Scripture summarized: The first readingfrom the Acts of the Apostles describes how Peter fulfills the mission of preaching Jesus. In this second sermon, Peter goes on with the preaching mission begun on Pentecost in Jerusalem, and again presents Jesus as the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. He also asks the Jews to turn toward God so that their sins may be wiped away. In the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 4) we declare our trust in God, asking, “Lord, let the Light of Your countenance “ – the Risen Jesus –“shine upon us,” and declaring, “You alone, O Lord, bring security to my dwelling” (vv 7, 9). In the second reading, John tells us that true knowledge and love of God consist in acknowledging that Jesus is the expiation for our sins. We make that acknowledgement daily by bearing witness to Him in our lives and by obeying His commandments. Today's Gospel leads us to reflect on Faith, doubts and crises. It shows us how Jesus convinced his disciples of his Resurrection and how he commissioned them to be his witnesses throughout the world. He prepared them to receive God's power through the coming descent of the Holy Spirit upon them, and he commanded them to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
The first reading: Acts 3: 13-15, 17-19, explained: Saint Luke wrote for an audience of cosmopolitan, middle-class Gentile converts, living in a skeptical society, yet committed to a religion with long, historic Jewish roots. This new religion reached out to all humankind. To tell that story, to ground his audience in their adopted religious heritage, and to keep them focused on the new religion's mission, Luke needed to show how the story of Jesus continued in His Church in a second book, the Acts of the Apostles. Today’s lesson is taken from the earlier part of the second of five discourses preached by Peter. This forceful address astonished the crowd gathered at the Portico of Solomon in the Jerusalem Temple after a healing miracle. In it, Peter speaks of the Jewish heritage of Christianity, reminding his hearers and us of how the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sent His Son Jesus as the Messiah to save the world and of how His chosen people rejected their Messiah, manipulating the Romans to execute Jesus. Peter also reports how Jesus was raised from the dead and fulfilled all the Messianic prophecies. This portion of the sermon concludes with the admonition to the Jews and a reminder to ourselves to repent of our sins and be converted. “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19). Although we were not part of that crowd demanding Jesus’ death, it was our sins that Christ carried to the cross, and it was for those sins that Christ asked the Father's forgiveness from the cross. Hence, we also need to reform our lives and turn to God with repentant hearts. If we believe that Christ has forgiven our sins, we must forgive the sins of others.
Second Reading, 1 John 2:1-5, explained: In liturgical year Cycle B, we read from the First Letter of Saint John on the Sundays of Easter. This Letter was addressed to the early Christian community beset with many problems. Some members were advocating false doctrines. These errors are here recognized and rejected. Although their advocates had left the community, the threat they posed remained. They had refused to acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who came into the world as a true man. They had been difficult people to deal with, claiming special knowledge of God but disregarding the Divine commandments, particularly that of love of neighbor. Likewise, they had refused to accept Faith in Christ as the source of sanctification. Thus, they denied the redemptive value of Jesus' death. While neither today’s reading from Luke nor the reading from Acts explains how Jesus’ death and Resurrection frees us from sins, John in his letter provides an explanation, calling Jesus the “expiation for our sins.” This presupposes that the death of Jesus was a sacrifice, like the sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament (Numbers 5:8). The sacrifice of Jesus makes up for sins, and so offers an opportunity for their forgiveness. Jesus continues to remain our advocate when we encounter the harsh reality of our sins in our lives. Hence, John advises true Christians to approach Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and to lead true Christian lives by obeying his commandments.
Gospel exegesis: The context: This apparition of Jesus took place on Easter evening, after Jesus had appeared to the two disciples of Emmaus. The two disciples to whom Our Lord appeared on their way to Emmausreturned hurriedly to Jerusalem to report the glad news that they had met him in the person of the stranger who had explained to them the Sacred Scriptures and whom they had recognized in the breaking of the bread. They discovered that the apostles were convinced, by that time, of the resurrection of Jesus because Simon also had seen him. While they were discussing these things, Jesus appeared in their midst, surprising and terrifying them. This story was told and retold and recorded by Luke for at least three reasons: (1) Jesus' death and Resurrection fit God's purpose as revealed in Scripture; (2) the risen Jesus is present in the breaking of bread; and (3) the risen Jesus is also physically absent from the disciples.
The facts emphasized: 1) The reality of Christ’s Resurrection. By inviting his apostles to look closely at him and touch him, Jesus removed any fear that they were seeing a ghost. He instilled confidence in them that he loved them by greeting them: “peace be with you.” By eating a piece of broiled fish before their eyes, he convinced them that they were not dreaming or having a mere vision or hallucination. Jesus wanted them to be authentic witnesses to the reality of his life as their risen Lord with his glorified soul and body. “The resurrection community that had experienced Jesus' dying now experienced his risen presence. And it was, quite insistently, an embodied one. This is a Jesus of sight and sound, of memories and relationships, of love and tenderness. He would take food and allow himself to be touched. Even his wounds could be examined. It was a recognizable and identifiable Jesus, a realization of his bodied existence.” (Fr. John Kavanaugh; Center for Liturgy).
2) The necessity of the cross: Jesus explained that his death on the cross had not been the result of a failed plan. Instead, it was part of God's eternal plan to show His love for His people by subjecting His Son to suffering and death.
3) The Resurrection of Jesus gives meaning to the Old Testament prophecies. Bible scholars cite 324 Messianic prophecies scattered throughout the Old Testament, especially in the prophets and in Psalms. Jesus explained to his disciples how these prophecies had been fulfilled in him so that they might become witnesses to their risen Lord in Jerusalem and to all the nations.
4) The commissioning of the disciples with the missionary task of preaching the Good News of salvation through repentance and Faith in Jesus. Jesus told the disciples what they were to preach, namely: a) that the Son of God was crucified and died on the cross as expiation for our sins; b) that he rose from the dead and conquered death; and c) that all people must repent of their sins and obtain forgiveness in his name. In this Gospel passage, Jesus also commanded His disciples to remain in Jerusalem and pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Life messages: 1) We need to relive the "Upper Room Experience" in the Holy Mass: The same Jesus who, in the Upper Room, prepared his disciples for their preaching and witnessing mission, is present with us in the Eucharistic celebration. He invites us to share in the "Liturgy of the Word of God" and in “The Liturgy of Bread and Wine." In the first part of the Mass, Jesus speaks to us through the "Word of God." In the second part, He becomes our spiritual food and drink. Thus, today's Gospel scene is repeated every Sunday on our parish altars. Like the early disciples, we come together to repent of our sins, express our thanks for the blessings we have received, listen to God’s words and offer ourselves to God on the altar along with our gifts of bread and wine. We also share in the spiritual food Jesus supplies, and we are sent to share his message with the entire world.
2) Jesus needs us as witnesses to continue his mission. Jesus needs Spirit-filled followers to be his eyes, ears, hands and feet so that we may bear witness to his love, mercy and forgiveness. The Church badly needs dedicated witnesses: priests, deacons, Brothers, Sisters, parents, teachers, doctors, and nurses – all of us. The essence of bearing witness is to testify by our lives that the power of the risen Jesus has touched and transformed us. In other words, Jesus is to speak to other people through us. In Calcutta, a dying old woman with her head in the lap of St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), looked at her for a long time, and, in a feeble voice, asked: "Are you the God Jesus who loves the poor and the sick?”
3) Our daily lives need to become the means of experiencing and sharing the risen Lord with others. Just as the disciples experienced their risen Lord in their community, let us learn to recognize the presence of Jesus in our own homes, social service centers, nursing facilities, work places, hospitals and schools. These are also the places where we have the opportunity to convey our peace and joy to others.
4) We need to become agents with Jesus in the establishing of the Kingdom in our world: Jesus wants us to be a community which shares and cares and in which everything is shared; a community which knows how to recognize Jesus in the poor, in the marginalized, in the sick; a community to bring healing into people's lives; and a community of peacemakers and not makers of division or conflict. (Fr. Antony Kadavil)