Sunday Sermon for April 19, 2015, the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
Readings: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1Jn 2:1-5a; Lk 24:35-48
In the readings today we can see the struggle that the first members of the Church had to endure as they went from doubt to faith, as they went from not understanding to understanding. Sometimes we think of these heroic people as a bunch of bumbling fools. Of course, the reason for that is that we have the advantage of the perspective of 2000 years of history.
The Apostles and the disciples of our Lord were trying to make sense of the things Jesus said and did. People walked away from the Lord because He told them He was God and because He told them they would have to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Imagine if your boss told you something similar. It is a miracle the Apostles remained steadfast at that point. Even though they stayed with our Lord, they clearly did not yet understand.
In the Gospel reading today we hear about the two disciples to whom Jesus appeared on the road to Emmaus. They spoke to the others about Jesus, about his suffering, about his resurrection, and about the Eucharist. When Jesus appears during the telling of these events, the rest of the Apostles are startled, terrified and think they are seeing a ghost. While we are not told, I suspect that the two who had seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus were quite calm.
Once they were convinced of the resurrection, the Apostles had to begin putting everything else into context. What Jesus taught was not just a random set of instructions; they were the words of God Himself. What occurred in the resurrection was proof to them that Jesus was Who He said He was.
Understanding that He was God, St. Peter was able to stand up on Pentecost and proclaim to the people that they had put to death the Author of Life. Without all of the theological insights, Peter was pointing out that He Who by nature cannot die, took our human nature to Himself so that He could die. This ability to die was for a reason as St. John makes clear in the second reading: that He would be the expiation for our sins. In the Gospel reading we see our Lord making this same point to the Apostles.
This is a startling an insight as the idea of the Author of Life being put to death. Now we have the Blood of One Who never sinned being shed so that our sins could be forgiven. We have the innocent dying for the guilty or, to use the word St. John uses, the One Who is righteous dying for the unrighteous. When we see these kinds of ideas being presented, we can begin to understand why things were so difficult for these people who were the first to be privileged with such profound insights that, on the surface, appear to be contradictory.
The apparent contradictions do not end with Jesus, however. They continue with us as we see in the second reading. St. John tells us that whoever keeps the Lord’s words, truly the love of God is perfected in him. Imagine that! God’s love being perfected in us! This is more difficult to grasp than the truths about Jesus. At least with Him we can look at everything objectively and ask if we believe the things said about Him are true or not. But when it comes to us and applying these truths to ourselves, the objectivity disappears and we find ourselves suddenly looking like a bunch of bumbling fools.
We do have to smile at God’s sense of humor. How easy it is to stand in judgment regarding the slowness of the apostles to believe. While they had been with Jesus for three years, it only took them fifty days after the resurrection before they were out preaching. Granted, there were many other insights they would have as time went along, but their faith and understanding grew very quickly.
What can we say of ourselves? These teachings have been with us for 2000 years which, obviously, means they have been accessible to us for our entire lifetime and still we do not believe. I am not speaking here about the objective truths regarding Jesus, but those that affect us directly. The Apostles (those bumbling fools, remember?) taught us about our call to holiness, our incorporation into Jesus, our call to become the very righteousness of God, the love of God being perfected in us, and so many more beautiful and profound truths about ourselves that we tend not to believe.
In the span of a couple of months the Apostles when from unbelieving to believing, from afraid to courageous, from ignorant to understanding, from selfish to loving. The same truths are being presented to us. How long will it take?
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.