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Reflections for the III Sunday of Easter

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings of the third Sunday of Easter. He says that the readings for this Sunday have one common, encouraging theme: No matter what happens in our lives, the risen Jesus is always with us.

Acts 2:14, 22-33 1 Pt 1:17-21, Lk 24:13-35

Introduction: Our  God is near to those who seek Him and who want to live in His presence, doing His will.  The Emmaus incident is the story of a God who will not abandon us when we are hurt and disappointed. As Francis Thompson put it, He is TheHound of Heaven Who relentlessly follows us when we try to escape from His love.  The message of today’s Scripture readings is that the followers of Jesus are to maintain contact with their risen Lord through prayer, the Eucharist, and the Bible.The readings also remind us that our belief in Jesus’ presence in the consecrated Bread and Wine should help us to understand better his presence in the Bible and in the believing and worshipping community.Putting the two appearances (to the Emmaus disciples and to Peter), together, it is clear that the risen Jesus wants Peter to act as spokesman for him and that the faithful who seek to follow Jesus should seek his company in the Eucharist, in prayer, and in the Bible under the direction of Peter and his successors. 

Homily starter anecdote: Broken dreams: Dr. J. Wallace Hamilton, in his book Horns and Halos in Human Nature, tells of one of the weirdest auctions in history. It was held in the city of Washington, D.C. It was an auction of designs, actually patent models of old inventions that did not make it in the marketplace. These 150,000 old inventions were declared obsolete and placed on the auction block for public auction. Prospective buyers and on-lookers chuckled as item after item was put up for bid, such as a bed-bug buster or an illuminated cat that was designed to scare away mice. Then there was a device to prevent snoring. It consisted of a trumpet that reached from the mouth to the ear and was designed to awaken the snorer and not the neighbors. One person designed a tube to reach from his mouth to his feet so that his breath would keep his feet warm as he slept. There was an adjustable pulpit which could be raised or lowered. You could hit a button and make the pulpit descend or ascend to illustrate a point dramatically. Obviously, at one time somebody had high hopes for each of those designs which did not make it. Some died in poverty, having spent all of their money trying to sell their dream. They represented a mountain of disappointments. One hundred fifty thousand broken dreams! Is there anything sadder? Today’s Gospel describes the shattered dreams of two of Jesus’ disciples at the tragic and unexpected death of their Master whom they trusted as their promised Messiah.

Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading, from Acts, is taken from the beginning of Peter's first public proclamation about Jesus and tells us how God raised Jesus from death, thus fulfilling the Messianic prophecies about the promised descendant of David. The Refrain for today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 16), has us singing, “Lord, you will show us the path of Life.”In the second reading, Peter exhorts the early Christians to place their Faith and Hope in God Who has saved them through the precious Blood of His Son and Who has raised Jesus from the dead.  The Emmaus incident described in today’s Gospel shows us a God who will not abandon us when we are hurt and disappointed. The message of today’s Scripture readings is that the followers of Jesus are to maintain contact with their Risen Lord through prayer, the Eucharist, and the Bible. The readings also remind us that our belief in Jesus’ presence in the consecrated Bread and Wine should help us to understand better his presence in the Bible and in the believing and worshipping community.  Putting the two appearances (to the Emmaus disciples and to Peter), together, it is clear that the risen Jesus wanted Peter to act as spokesman for him, and that the faithful who seek to follow Jesus should seek his company in prayer, the Eucharist, and the Bible under the direction of Peter and his successors.  

The first reading (Acts 2:14, 22-33) explained: Today we hear the beginning of Peter's first public proclamation about Jesus, telling the gathered people about and how God raised Jesus from death, thus fulfilling the Messianic prophecies about the promised descendant of David.  The reading is taken from the first and the longest of Peter's five discourses preserved in the Acts of the Apostles.  During his speech, Peter refers to Israel's beloved King David, quoting Psalm 16 (ascribed to David), and asserts that David, "foresaw and spoke of the Resurrection of the Christ." Today's reading tries to describe a time before the earliest Christians realized that God was calling them to embrace all people. At this stage, they acted as though they were only the first few Jews to have caught on to the Messianic identity of Jesus, and their goal was only to convince other Jews of what they had realized.

The second reading (1 Peter 1:17-21) explained: Peter exhorts the early Church, made up of Hebrew and pagan converts, to place their Faith and Hope in God Who has saved them through the precious Blood of His Son and Who has raised Jesus from the dead.  Peter repeats the assertion made in Acts, that Jesus' death and Resurrection was part of God's plan from all eternity.  Hence, Jesus' sufferings and subsequent glorification by God should serve to center the Christian's Faith and Hope in God Who has accepted those sufferings as an act of Redemption for all mankind. From this reassuring truth, Christians should sense God's providence, both in their own current situations and in the whole of their lives, and they should understand the place of their present struggles in a wider context. The root of our Faith must be the Resurrection of Jesus, and Peter argues that it is essential for everyone in the Christian community to experience the risen Jesus alive and present in everyday life.

Gospel exegesis:Luke's Emmaus Gospel is a beautiful, theological dramatization of one of the encounters of the disciples with their risen Lord during those wonder-filled days after the discovery of the empty tomb (Mk 16:12-13). It is the story of how on Easter Sunday two disciples of Jesus, discouraged and devastated, set out on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus -- a distance of about seven miles -- and were overtaken by a stranger going along the same road.  They began to speak to him about all that had occurred in the Holy City during the previous week.  Most probably, Cleopas and his companion were husband and wife, residents of Emmaus and disciples of Jesus who had witnessed His crucifixion and burial. 

Cleophas and companion: “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene.”(John 19:25). From the Gospels we also learn that this wife of Clophas/Cleophas  was also the mother of James the Less and Joses, and that she had been a follower, as well as a helper, of Jesus and his immediate disciples (Mark 15:40, 41: cf. Mark 16:1 and Luke 24:10). Mark 16:1 tells us that “Mary the mother of James brought spices to prepare the body of Jesus.” Then, in Luke 24:10The women [who went to the tomb, and to whom Jesus appeared] were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James.” This may explain why, after his appearance to Mary Magdalene in the garden early in the morning (and not counting an unrecorded appearance to Peter),  Jesus was next seen by Cleopas and his wife, Mary---- and this before he appeared to any of the “regular” disciples.These two disciples chose to leave Jerusalem on the afternoon of the third day after the death of Jesus – the very day they had received news that the tomb was empty.  They were “prevented” from recognizing the Stranger, Jesus, perhaps partly by preoccupation with their own disappointment and problems. As they journeyed on, Jesus showed them how the Scriptures had foretold all that he had done and suffered, including his death and its purpose. His coming to them and walking alongside of them illustrates the truth that the road to Emmaus is a road of companionship with Jesus who desires to walk with each of us."I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20). The incident further illustrates that Jesus is with us even when we do not recognize him.  

Encounters with God:  The Old Testament describes how the Chosen People encountered God in unexpected ways.  Gen 18:1-15 describes how Abraham, at Mamre, entertained three “angels” (interpreted as a first hint that God is TriUne) unaware. Running from his troubles,Jacob laid his head on a stone while he slept and saw a stairway to Heaven.   He is presented as wrestling all night with a manifestation of God in the flesh.  Moses turned aside from his flock of sheep to see why a bush would burn and not be consumed and heard the Voice of God from it.  Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up in the Temple.  Saul of Tarsus met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and Jesus got Saul's attention by knocking him to the ground and striking him blind.  God’s Self-disclosure to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus was unexpected, but in a radically different way from the encounters mentioned above.

Invitation accepted: The Jewish custom required that Cleopas and his companion invite Jesus to dinner.  Hence, they invited Jesus for a night’s rest in their house--and Jesus accepted the invitation.  During the meal, when Jesus broke the bread and gave it to them, the disciples realized that this stranger was Jesus, the risen Christ, and Jesus immediately vanished.  Later they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us when he opened up the Scriptures to us?”  Since they could not keep the Good News to themselves, the Emmaus disciples walked back seven miles to Jerusalem to share their story with the other disciples.  The Fathers of the Church note how well the details of this Emmaus episode match our process of coming to Faith in Jesus Christ.  First, there are questions and a search for answers.  Then comes a moment of discovery when our eyes are opened and our hearts within begin to burn with longing.  Finally, there is the desire to tell the story to all who will listen.

Liturgical setting: Luke’s Gospel, written toward the end of the first century, was mainly meant for Christians who had not witnessed Christ in the flesh.  Luke tells us that we can meet and experience the risen Lord through the reading and interpretation of Scripture (v. 27), and the “Breaking of the Bread,” as the Lord's Supper (vv. 30-31) was known then.  The story of the encounter on the Emmaus Road is presented in a liturgical fashion using liturgical language such as the commentary: "he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them" (v 30); "the Lord has risen indeed" (v. 34).  Thus, the risen Christ is revealed through the telling of the story, the interpretation of Scripture, and the Breaking of the Bread.  Jesus began revealing himself through the Scriptures (vv. 25-27) and completed the revelation through the Eucharist (vv. 30-31).  This means that Christ still reveals himself to us through Word and Sacrament.  The word "companion" derives from two Latin words, "cum" meaning "together with," and "panis" which means "bread," implying that companionship is the result especially of eating together, breaking bread together, something which is at the heart of the Eucharist.

Lessons from Emmaus:  Luke’s Emmaus story teaches us that (1) Jesus' death and Resurrection fit God's purpose as revealed in the Scriptures; (2) the risen Jesus is present in the Word of God and especially in the Breaking of the Bread; 3) suffering is necessary for the Messiah "to enter into his glory"; and 4) we have a risen Savior, One Who personally walks with us in our daily paths, talks with us through His Word and with Whom we can talk through prayer.  He is the One Who opens our minds to understand and respond to His Word.  (The bishops at the Second Vatican Council recorded these compelling words which are still deeply relevant to the Church today: 'The Church has always venerated the Divine Scriptures just as it venerates the Body of the Lord, since from the table both of the Word of God and of the Body of Christ it unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the Bread of Life. It has always regarded the Scriptures together with sacred tradition as the supreme rule of Faith and will ever do so” (Dei Verbum 21).Jesus is with us, is concerned about us, and provides for us regardless of what life may bring. Further, the Father, at Jesus’ request, has given us the Holy Spirit so that we may teach others about Him.  Let us, therefore, with the perception of His presence, walk with Jesus, talk with Him, depend on Him, worship Him, and tell others about Him.

Life messages: 1) Jesus meets us on our Emmaus Road.  The risen Lord meets us on the road to our Emmaus, both in the ordinary experiences of our lives, and in the places to which we retreat when life is too much for us.  We, too, have hopes and dreams about better health, healing, finance ial security and family relationships.  These hopes and dreams often shatter. The story promises us, however, that Jesus will come to us in unfamiliar guises to support and strengthen us when we least expect our risen Lord.  Emmaus moments come to us when we meet the risen Christ on our life’s journey through rough times. 

2) The road to Emmaus is a road of companionship. Jesus, now freed from the space-time limits of his earthly life, is present in our midst and wants to be our Friend.The risen Lord desires that we walk with Him and with one another: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flamescorch you.For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2-3).  He wants to join us in our travels of life: “I am a Companion of all who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts” (Psalms 119:63).“Where two or three are gathered in My Name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20).

3) We meet Jesus daily in our life’s journey.The Church instructs us to hear Jesus on a daily basis through our faithful reading of, and meditation on, the Bible;  through our participation in the Eucharistic celebration at which we receive Jesus as our spiritual Food and Drink ; through our personal and family prayers; and through our family meals.  When we meet our risen Lord through the Word of God, we commune with him.  We renew our relationship with Jesus through prayer. All these meetings prepare and enable us to encounter the risen Jesus living in all the people we meet and to do Him humble, loving and selfless service in each of them.

4) Do our hearts burn when we listen to the Risen Lord in tradition teaches us that the reading of the Scriptures, the study of the Scriptures and the proclamation of the message of the Scriptures are the primary ways in which we meet God.  Vatican II (Dei Verbum 21) tells us that Jesus is to be equally venerated in the Eucharist and in the Bible.  Therefore, we need to study the Bible, learn the Bible, memorize the Bibleand meditate on the word of God.  We know that Christ lives in the Bible, and so we need to spend time in the Bible to have a deep, intimate, loving, caring, long-term relationship with Jesus Christ.  We know we are to brush our teeth every day.  Likewise, we are to read the Bible every day, making it habitual, because people either read the Bible daily or almost never. When we read the Scriptures daily, we meet and converse with Jesus Christ! Abraham Lincoln, whom many consider the best President of the United States, said: “The greatest gift that God gave to human beings is the Bible.”  Another President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, said that it was a principle of his to read the Bible through each and every year.  Yet another great President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, said, “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.”  Goethe, the great German philosopher, said that the beauty of the Bible grows as we grow in our understanding of it.  

5)  We need to find Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread.  In the Gospel story for today, we learn that we find Christ is in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.  When we approach the altar to receive the Sacrament, we see and receive Christ.  In John 6, Jesus says, “Whoever eats My Body and drinks My Blood shall live with me eternally.”  The Eucharist is true "soul food," the Bread of life for eternity.  It feeds us and fulfills our spiritual needs.  It is a pity that often we don’t realize what is happening during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the sacred banquet of all believers.  In this meal, we are in communion, not only with Jesus, but also with our family and friends who have preceded us in death.  The Eucharist is not simply Bread and Wine for today – it is a banquet for all eternity. (Fr. Antony Kadavil)

22 April 2020, 14:58