22nd April. 3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19. Saint Peter lays the blame for the death of Jesus squarely on his Jewish listeners, who pressured Pilate for his execution. Still, he calls them to repentance and to the mercy of God.
1 Jn 2:1-5. Saint John accepts that even Christians are still prone to sins. But if we sin, forgiveness is available through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, so long as we admit the truth about ourselves.
Lk 24:35-48. The risen Jesus appears to his apostles. As in all his appearances, his words and gestures are recorded, to assure us that he is real and not a ghost.
Theme: In our time some people prematurely predict the “death of God”. But we proclaim, “Christ is risen, Christ will come again” and try to bear witness that God is alive in our lives.
What were your favourite bedtime stories? Most of us would remember being tucked up with one. Often enough the story may have been the same one, told over and over again. Depending upon who told the story, different nuances emerged too. Whether we were storyteller or story listener, if it was a really good story, it had an absorbing power and helped to shape our memory and our lives.
Each week when we gather for our Eucharistic Celebration, one of the most important things we do is to listen to the greatest story of all time. It’s good to remember that this same story is being told all over the world. You and I are one of the millions of people whose lives and faith are being shaped by this story we hear today.
In today’s Gospel, we hear a story within a story. The disciples, excited from their Emmaus encounter with Jesus have become storytellers too. And then Jesus, (whom many think is the greatest storyteller of all time), appears in the midst of these storytellers and listeners, and reminds them about all the other stories. May we who hear today’s Gospel story tell it to others so that it may continue to shape our memories and lives together.
Repentance and Forgiveness
“You see how it is written that the Christ would suffer, and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations.” This is the risen Christ speaking to us from out the gospel. And his words are echoed by Peter in the first reading, “Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.” Even in the second reading, the apostle John urges his readers to stop sinning, and if they have sinned they should seek forgiveness in Christ who by his sacrifice has taken our sins away. Most people who are living in sin, without thought of God or regard for his commandments, silence their consciences if ever they trouble them, with the promise of repenting some future day. But is it possible that a change of heart can be brought about in a single day? Can we possibly alter our tastes, our will, our character and habits without any difficulty in a brief period of time?
We might be inclined to sit back and say, “Why all the fuss if everyone is a sinner, and forgiveness is easily got?” But John issues a solemn warning, “We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments.” To know is one of those terms which had a special meaning in sacred scripture. It had almost nothing to do with intellectual understanding. To know God meant to abide in God, to have a close and personal relationship with him. And this is only possible if we live in imitation of Christ, if we put on Christ, as St Paul says. Christianity, it is true, gives us great privileges, but it also makes great demands on us. For we cannot be like Christ unless we are pure in heart. ,
There is a story of a poor and simple man who regularly visited a certain church, and would always pray on his knees before a large crucifix. He was once asked why his lips never moved while in this attitude of prayer before the image of Christ crucified. His reply was, “I look at him, and he looks at me.” For him words had given way to contemplation. And truly, those who look long enough at Christ, whether before a representation of Christ, or just mentally, will finally become like Christ, and that for all eternity, because of the vision of him as he really is.
Invited to believe
This is one of the many appearances of Jesus after his resurrection, except, in this one more than any other, he is at great pains to convince them that he is real, that everything that has happened was foretold in scripture, and was part of a divine plan.
I remember crossing from Jordan into Israel one time with a group of pilgrims. We had flown to Amman, and drove to Jerusalem by coach. There was a bridge on the border and the traffic stretched back for miles on the approach road. Tensions were high in that part of the world at that time, and Israeli security was on high alert. When we eventually got to the checkpoint, I will never forget the grilling each one of us received. We each had to produce passports, travel tickets, driver’s licence, identity card, etc., etc. By the time I was finished, they had about ten different proofs in front of them saying that I was who I said I was. I then had to identify my luggage, and identify each single item as it was removed from the bag. Having emptied my briefcase, it was passed through a machine, which x-rayed it. There was no point in getting annoyed because, to do so, could guarantee a further grilling, or a return to the back of the queue. I decided to look upon the experience as a study, not sure whether it would teach me more about them or about myself. I just thought of this when I saw the trouble Jesus has to go to in today’s gospel to convince them that everything is as it is.
It’s an extraordinary fact, but understandable, that one of our basic attitudes towards God is one of fear. The first time the word “fear” is mentioned in the Bible is when Adam and Eve sinned. We are told that “they hid, because they were afraid.” From then on, most contacts with God begin with the words “Fear not; be not afraid.” This was even said to Mary, as it was to the shepherds. It is reckoned that Jesus used this expression several dozen times throughout the gospels. When the apostles cried Out to him in the storm, he replied, “Why did you fear, Oh you of little faith?” Today’s gospel speaks of the apostles being terribly frightened. This seems strange, as the reason for the fear is the one person who had always been their best friend. This fear certainly shows up the limitations of our humanity. It was always a put-down, when I was a child, to be told that I was afraid of my shadow.
In a way it’s sad to see Jesus pleading with them to believe him. He invites them to touch him, to give him something to eat, to examine his hands and his feet. Human nature is so fragile, and so fickle. I’m not blaming anyone here. Obviously, this is the first time the apostles ever came across a situation like this. One would have thought that seeing Lazarus, or the daughter of Jairus, or the son of the widow of Naim, get up and walk after having been dead, should have gone some way towards preparing them for this moment. They had known Jesus on a personal basis, and had felt at home in his company. This time, however, things were different. He had broken out of the constraints of the human body, and there must surely have been a sense of uniqueness about him that they had never seen before. It is difficult for the human mind to get around the concept of the utter transformation that takes place, when someone they have known and loved is so utterly transformed, and now has an aura of unearthliness about him. We are told that, while they still doubted, they were filled with joy and wonder. Jesus spoke to them about the promises of scripture, and how he had just fulfilled them. While they still wondered, he commissioned them to continue the task he had begun. In the following line, that is not included in today’s gospel, he promises that he will send them the Spirit and they will have a whole new power, when they will share in the new power into which he has now entered. He gives them the commission, which is to go out to all sinners. “There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me.”
First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 3:13-15
The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.
Second Reading: First Epistle of St. John 2:1-5
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him:
Gospel: Luke 24:35-48
Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.