Sunday Sermon for April 15, 2018, the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
Readings Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1 Jn 2:1-5a; Lk 24:35-48
In the first reading we see the kindness and mercy St. Peter extends to the crowd of Jewish people who were listening to him on Pentecost. Just over seven weeks after our Lord had been crucified we notice there is no anger or judging in Peter’s exhortation. He is very forthright and direct in what he is saying, not trying to sidestep the truth of who had called for the death of Jesus, but he says the people acted in ignorance.
We can recognize very quickly the correlation between what Peter is saying to the crowd gathered in Jerusalem and the words our Lord prayed from the Cross regarding the people who gathered in Jerusalem to witness His crucifixion. From the Cross He prayed that God would forgive the people because they knew not what they were doing.
One would have to think that if they truly knew and understood that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah they would not have killed Him. But St. Peter reminds the people that it was by means of their ignorance that God brought about the fulfillment of what had been announced through the Prophets regarding the suffering and death of the Christ.
This point of the ignorance of the people is of great importance. However, it is not merely the ignorance of the Jewish people 2000 years ago about which we speak. We see in the Gospel the ignorance of the Apostles on Easter night when our Lord appeared to them. They had just heard the two disciples describe what had taken place on the way to Emmaus and then what happened at Emmaus in the breaking of the bread. The Apostles even began the conversation with these two disciples by announcing that our Lord had risen and appeared to Simon. Yet when our Lord appeared to them they were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost when our Lord appeared to them.
These considerations come home to us when we read what St. John tells us in the second reading: anyone who says “I know Him” but does not keep His commandments is a liar. We hear people protesting all the time that they know Jesus, perhaps we do so ourselves. In the midst of such proclamations of knowledge we find ourselves regularly committing sins. Every time we sin we are acting out of ignorance, because if we truly knew Him and loved Him we would not be acting in opposition to His commandments to love God and to love neighbor.
But, we might wonder, how do we get to know Jesus? Through love we can come to know Him by spending intimate time with Him in prayer. This will be helped by knowing about Him through faith, which can be accomplished by reading the Scriptures and learning from the Catechism. But simply knowing about Him and His commandments is entirely different from knowing Him.
We can also come to know Jesus through hope by experiencing His mercy. The way this is done is just the opposite of what we did to prove we do not know Him. We demonstrated our ignorance by sinning; now we come to know Him in and through the forgiveness of our sins. In all three readings today we hear about this.
In the Gospel Jesus tells His Apostles the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in His Name. St. Peter, pointing to our Lord’s suffering, calls upon the people to repent and be converted so their sins could be wiped away. St. John says we have an Advocate before the Father. He goes on to say Jesus is the expiation for our sins.
Most of us do not need a conversion so that we come to believe in Jesus; that is already there. However, many of us probably need a deeper conversion which goes beyond just believing in Jesus to truly loving and serving Him. This is a grace we need to pray for because only God can cause in us a change of heart and deeper conversion.
When this happens we will be able to apply the words of St. Peter to ourselves, i.e., we acted out of ignorance. St. Peter will also remind us that God uses our ignorance to bring abut His holy will. When we experience true sorrow for our sins and come to understand the gravity of those sins, we will have profound gratitude to God, we will recognize our total dependence on the Lord, we will strive to serve Him and not ourselves. It sounds strange, but for most of us, we will become Saints because of our sins, because we will know the mercy of God through the forgiveness of our sins.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.