Third Sunday of Easter: 22nd April, 2012
Happy Easter! Yes, it’s still Easter! This week we celebrate the third Sunday of the Easter season as we continue on the road towards Pentecost.
For our Gospel Reading we hear another resurrection account, this week from St. Luke. In it, the Lord appears to His disciples and demonstrates to them that He has risen bodily from the dead. He then “opens their minds” to see how all that had come to pass was the will of the Father, His plan and His promise from the beginning.
In our Responsorial Psalm, David speaks of a God who comes to the rescue, bestowing light and peace to those in trouble. God’s rescuing love finds its fullest expression, of course, in the coming of Jesus Christ and in our First Reading we hear St. Peter proclaim this Good News to the crowd. Peter explains that through Christ’s saving sacrifice can be saved and in our Second Reading St. John reflects upon this and upon our call to respond in obedience to this great love of God.
Reading I: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Since we are still in the Easter season, our First Readings continue to be drawn from the “Acts of the Apostles”, the book of the New Testament which chronicles the first thirty years of Church history.
It is after Pentecost. Peter and John go up to the Temple in Jerusalem. As they enter, Peter heals a crippled beggar in the name of Jesus. This miracle draws a large crowd, to whom Peter preaches the Good News. In his sermon, the Prince of the Apostles makes it very clear that Jesus’ ignominious death was not some kind of accident, but was the plan of God, long foretold in the Hebrew scriptures.
Peter said to the people: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence when he had decided to release him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses. Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did; but God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer. Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”
- What is the context of this Reading? What has just happened?
- How does Peter describe Jesus? How should we understand this?
- Who was the cause of Jesus’ crucifixion?
- How does Peter relate Jesus’ crucifixion to the Old Testament?
- What invitation does Peter give at the end?
Peter said to the people:
Peter stands as spokesman for the Apostles, as he does many times throughout the New Testament.
“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, …
This is how God described Himself to Moses in the burning bush:
Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. – Exodus 3:6
Peter is showing the continuity between his preaching and the Old Testament:
[Jesus said] “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” - Matthew 5:17
The Church is a continuation of Israel.
“…has glorified his servant Jesus, …”
Jesus was glorified in his suffering, dying, rising and ascending into Heaven:
“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began… Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” – John 15:5, 24
By describing the Lord as God’s “servant” Peter is showing that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” (see Isaiah 52:13-53:12). In Isaiah’s prophecy Yahweh glorifies His Servant because the Servant has endured the rejection of the people and offered His life for their sins:
See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted – Isaiah 52:13
The “Suffering Servant” was crucial to the Early Church’s understanding of Jesus’ mission.
“…whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence when he had decided to release him”
The Jewish leaders handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities for crucifixion. Initially Pilate tried to let Him go:
Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man….I find no basis for your charges against him…I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him“ – Luke 23:4, 14, 22.
However, at the urging of the Jewish leaders the crowd demand Jesus’ death by shouting “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13).
“You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you”
Jesus is the “Righteous One” since He was without sin:
…we have [a high priest] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin – Hebrews 4:15
The “murderer” referred to here is the man named “Barabbas”:
But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) - Luke 23:18-19
The righteous one is condemned while the unrighteous goes free. This is a perfect image of Christ’s atoning work.
“The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; …”
Peter just contrasted the “righteous” with the “unrighteous”. He now compares “life” with “death”.
Jesus is the “author of life” because He participated in the creation of the world:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. - John 1:1-4
…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. – Hebrews 1:2
Jesus continues to renew and give life to the world through His Spirit:
And with that [Jesus] breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” - John 20:22
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18
In the past I’ve heard Muslims and Jehovah Witnesses attempt to use Peter’s sermon to “prove” that Jesus wasn’t God, saying “Peter described Jesus as only a ‘servant’!”. When this happens I invite them to finish reading the rest of the paragraph which includes this verse where Jesus is described as “the author of life”… Could a prophet or an angel really be called the author of life?
“…of this we are witnesses”
The Apostles bear witness to Jesus’ death and Resurrection. So, in this short passage we encounter the format of every sermon in Acts:
1. Jesus was killed
2. Jesus was raised
3. We are His witnesses.
“Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did; …”
What was done by the Jews and Romans (who are symbolic of the whole of mankind) was done out of ignorance. They were unaware both of the gravity of their crime and God’s purposes in their actions. Peter is now explaining things to them so they are ignorant no longer.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” – Luke 23:34
Peter will go on to tell them that it is time to repent and turn back to God.
“…but God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer”
Jesus’ death was not an accident. His life was not taken from Him, He gave it up voluntarily. It had been prophesied throughout the Scriptures. Jesus Himself had to explain this to the disciples on the road to Emmaus:
Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. - Luke 24:26-27
Jesus’ suffering had all been foretold:
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the LORD and against his anointed - Psalm 2:1-2
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. - Isaiah 53:7
The fact that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy is constantly brought up in the New Testament:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. – 1 Peter 1:10-11
“Repent, therefore, and be converted, …
Now that Peter has explained to them about Jesus, he calls them to repentance. Repentance is an about turn, a change of mind and will. He exhorts the crowd to repent, turning away from sin and, in faith, turn to God.
…that your sins may be wiped away”
This takes place in the Sacrament of Baptism:
“And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” – Acts 22:16
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9
This psalm of David expresses the psalmist’s trust in the Lord and in His saving power.
R. (7a) Lord, let your face shine on us.
When I call, answer me, O my just God,
you who relieve me when I am in distress;
have pity on me, and hear my prayer!
Know that the LORD does wonders for his faithful one;
the LORD will hear me when I call upon him.
O LORD, let the light of your countenance shine upon us!
You put gladness into my heart.
As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep,
for you alone, O LORD,
bring security to my dwelling.
- What is the theme of this psalm?
R. (7a) Lord, let your face shine on us.
This is an expression found elsewhere in the Bible indicating God’s favour.
When I call, answer me, O my just God, you who relieve me when I am in distress; have pity on me, and hear my prayer!
A plea for God’s help.
Know that the LORD does wonders for his faithful one; the LORD will hear me when I call upon him.
David rebukes anyone who would turn to other gods. The Lord is faithful.
O LORD, let the light of your countenance shine upon us! You put gladness into my heart.
It is reminiscent of Arron’s blessing:
“The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.” - Numbers 6:25-26
The “heart” in the Bible refers to not just emotions, but refers to the very center from which thought, action and emotions spring.
As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep, for you alone, O LORD, bring security to my dwelling.
David is secure and at peace in the Lord.
Reading II: 1 John 2:1-5a
This Reading is a continuation from last week and it fortuitously compliments our First Reading. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter spoke about the death of Christ and issued to the crowd a call to repentance and conversion. In this Second Reading, John meditates on the problem of sin, and its solution in Christ, our righteous “Advocate”. Saved by His sacrifice and inspired by His example, we are also called to be obedient so that the love of God may be perfected within us.
My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world. The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Those who say, “I know him,” but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.
- How does John address this letter’s recipients? What do we understand by this?
- What does John say about us and sin?
- What does John say about Jesus and sin?
- How may we be sure that we know God?
- If we say we know God but don’t keep His commandments, what are we?
- What happens if we keep God’s word?
My children, …
The Greek word used here is “teknion” which probably more accurately should be rendered “little children”. We only find it used in John’s writings. He uses this word to express spiritual fatherhood and loving affection. It is fitting that John would have been an old man at the writing of this letter.
I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin.
The intention of this letter. John takes the problem of sin very seriously.
But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.
This is the solution to the problem: Jesus.
An “Advocate” is one who speaks in court on behalf of one accused i.e. a defense attorney. The Greek word used here is “Parakletos”, from which we get the word “Paraclete”. This term was used to describe both Jesus and the Holy Spirit:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever” – John 14:16
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me” – John 15:26
In Scripture Satan is sometimes called an accuser:
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down…” - Revelation 12:10
Although Satan accuses, we have an “Advocate”, one who is “righteous” (see First Reading) who can enter God’s presence and plead for sinners:
“There is a problem here. A righteous advocate never takes unrighteous cases, which ours of course are. What can we do, dear brothers? The only way to get around this is to follow what Scripture says: ‘The righteous man accuses himself first of all’ (Proverbs 18:47 in the Septuagint form). Therefore a sinner who weeps over his sins and accuses himself is set on the path of righteousness, and Jesus can take up his case.” - Saint Pope Gregory I the Great (A.D. 593), Homilies on Ezekiel 1,7,24
He is expiation for our sins…
The word “expiation” (“Hilasmos” in Greek) could be translated “atonement”. It means a compensation for some kind of wrong committed. In this case, it is repairing the damage done by man’s sin. It is the term used in the Old Testament to refer to the sacrifices and is therefore used in this case to refer to the sacrifice of Christ:
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. - Romans 3:25
This atonement far outweighs the debt, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains:
“One makes satisfaction for an offense when he offers the person offended something of equal or greater value. Christ, by suffering in a spirit of love and obedience, offered to God more than the recompense required for all the offenses of the human race. His Passion was not only sufficient but superabundant satisfaction for the world’s sins” – St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, 48, 2
…and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.
During the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth John the Baptist (as opposed to John the Apostle) exclaimed:
…“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! - John 1:29
Jesus described His mission in similar terms:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16
However, the verse should not be interpreted as teaching universalism (the idea that everyone will be saved). Rather, it demonstrates the greatness of God’s mercy and the impartiality of God concerning who may receive forgiveness:
And he died for all… - 2 Corinthians 5:15
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. - 1 Timothy 2:4
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance – 2 Peter 3:9
The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments.
This verse continues the theme of obedience found in last week‘s Second Reading from the same epistle. Keeping the Lord’s commandments means to grow in maturity and become more like Christ, loving God and neighbour:
“[W]hoever claims to abide in him ought to live (just) as he lived” - 1 John 2:6
Last week we also spoke about the Gnostics. Another common characteristic of these Gnostic groups was that they tried to separate moral conduct from intellectual assent. The Gnostics claimed to posses a secret “knowledge” (“gnosis” in Greek) by which salvation was achieved.
John uses the verb “to know” forty-two times in this epistle, but he uses it very differently from that of the Gnostics. John makes it clear that intellectual assent and moral conduct cannot be separated:
“Often in the Scriptures the word ‘know’ means not just being aware of something but having personal experience of it. Jesus did not know sin, not because He was unaware of what it is but because He never committed it Himself… Given this meaning of the word ‘know,’ it is clear that anyone who says that he knows God must also keep His commandments, for the two things go together.” -Didymus the Blind (c. AD 390), Commentary on 1 John
Those who say, “I know him,” but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them.
We call these people hypocrites, since they say one thing and do another.
But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.
This sentence could be interpreted two different ways. It could say that when we obey Him…
1. …God’s love for us is made complete.
2. …our love for God is made complete.
Personally, I think the latter is most likely as it resonates nicely with St. James’ teaching on faith and works:
You see that [Abraham's] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did…faith without works is dead – James 2:22, 20
Gospel: Luke 24:35-48
Last week we heard the Resurrection account from John’s Gospel and the story of “Doubting Thomas”. This week we hear another Easter Sunday Resurrection account, this time from St. Luke.
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, ”Peace be with you.” But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.
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 and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, ”Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
- To what incident do the “two disciples” refer?
- How does Jesus greet His disciples? Why is this somewhat surprising?
- What invitation does Jesus give? Why?
- What further evidence does he give?
- What does Jesus say about His death?
- What role does He assign to His followers? How does this apply to us?
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
This refers to the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus (a town seven miles away from Jerusalem):
While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, ”Peace be with you.”
We also mentioned this last week. The Hebrew “shalom” means much more than mere absence of conflict, it also means welfare, blessing, grace, loving kindness and mercy.
Joe, author of “Shameless Popery”, points out the link between this greeting and the words of the Mass.
But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
This detail isn’t given in the other Gospels, but explains the fear described in those other accounts.
The disciples had known Christ to be really man, having been so long a time with Him; but after that He was dead, they do not believe that the real flesh could rise again from the grave on the third day. They think then that they see the spirit which He gave up at His passion – St. Bede
Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Jesus shows that he is not a ghost by virtue of the fact that he has a body. In this account He tells His disciples to look at His “hands and…feet” (in John’s Gospel which we heard last week He shows His side rather than His feet):
But He adds also another proof, namely, the handling of His hands and feet, when He says, Handle me and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see me have. As if to say, You think me a spirit, that is to say, a ghost, as many of the dead are wont to be seen about their graves. But know you that a spirit has neither flesh nor bones, but I have flesh and bones – Theophyl
Christ’s Resurrection assures us of our own:
Jesus’ risen body prefigures the resurrected bodies of the saints. By convincing us of his own Resurrection, he likewise assures us of the physical nature of our own resurrection on the Last Day - St. Ambrose, In Lucam
In the Second Reading’s commentary we mentioned the Gnostics and it’s worth mentioning them again here. Since the Gnostics believed that all matter was evil, they had a problem with the bodily resurrection of Christ. St. Ignatius of Antioch fought against a form of Gnosticism called Docetism, strenuously affirming that Christ had a resurrected body:
“Immediately they touched Him and, through this contact with His flesh and spirit, believed.” – c. AD 110, Letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Symernaeans, Chapter 3, Verse 2
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.
Christ offers them more proof that He is not a ghost by consuming food.
The Lord had shown His disciples His hands and His feet, that He might certify to them that the same body which had suffered rose again. But to confirm them still more, He asked for something to eat – St. Cyril
Christ did not need to consume the food:
He ate indeed by His power, not from necessity. The thirsty earth absorbs water in one way, the burning sun in another way, the one from want, the other from power – St. Bede
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 and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”
In saying “Moses and in the prophets and psalms” He is referring to the three sections of the Hebrew Old Testament: the Law, Prophets and Writings i.e. the Messiah was foretold throughout the Old Testament.
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
He no doubt explained it to them, much like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).
And he said to them, ”Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins…”
As Peter preached in the First Reading, Jesus’ death was not an accident, it was all part of the plan. The Old Testament foretold that Jesus would:
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” – Psalm 22:6-8
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. – Psalm 16:9-11
“…would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem…
The preaching begins in Jerusalem and goes out to the whole world, as chronicled in the Acts of the Apostles.
…You are witnesses of these things.”
As we heard in the First Reading, the Apostles are Jesus’ witnesses:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8
The Greek word rendered here as “witness” is “martus”, from which we get the word “martyr”.