Breaking Open the Word

April 18, 2021

 

3rd Sunday of Easter

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Introduction

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The first reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. Immediately before today’s story, Peter and John met a beggar who had been lame since birth who asked them for money. Peter told him they had no money but had a greater gift for him. In the Name of Jesus, he told the man to rise and walk. He not only walked, he leaped up, and went into the temple jumping, dancing, and praising God. This attracted a lot of attention by the surrounding Jews. He clung to Peter and John while all the people gathered around them. So Peter addressed the crowds in this reading. He referred to Jesus as God’s servant, linking back to the words of the prophet Isaiah (52:13, 53:11). 

 

Verse 16 was omitted for context to the previous story, but Peter tells them “And by faith in His name (Jesus), this beggar, whom you see and know, His name has made strong, and the faith that comes from it has given him this perfect health, in the presence of all of you.” Then Peter went on to accuse these Jews, including the leaders and Romans, in the death of the author of life, God. But even so, he said, God raised Jesus from the dead, of which His followers are witnesses. 

 

Recalling in the gospels Peter’s impulsiveness and his over-reactions, he could have been angry with this crowd, who were responsible for the death of his beloved Jesus. He had also been a coward and denier of Jesus, but this is now a very bold Peter after being filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, now addressing the accused crowd as brothers, with the same kindness as Jesus had with the apostles in the gospel today. Peter tells them they killed Jesus out of ignorance, and also that God was fulfilling what was announced through the prophets that the Messiah would suffer. He now asks them to simply repent and believe in Jesus as the Messiah and their sins would be forgiven and God would then bless them. Many did repent, but very soon after the Sadducees, who don’t believe in life after death, and the priests were disturbed by talk of Jesus’ Resurrection, and had the temple guards arrest Peter and John. Nonetheless, the apostles were wildly successful because about five thousand people believed them and converted that day.

 

Psalm 4 is an excellent prayer to read at the end of the day. The author King David had many reasons to be troubled, but he knows the Lord will protect and save him, and he will sleep peacefully, secure in the protection of God. Let me include the omitted beautiful verse 8: “But you have given my heart more joy than they have when grain and wine abound.” Verse 9 is in the evening prayer of the divine office. 

 

The second reading verse 2 contains a line that is basically a prayer in the divine chaplet of last Sunday, “For the sake of His powerful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” St. John is saying it’s not enough to just say we know Jesus, but we have to also avoid sin by keeping the commandments. Without keeping the commandments, we cannot have a true relationship with Jesus. 

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Gospel Explained

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The gospel for today picks up right after the story of the two followers of Jesus and their encounter with Him on the road to Emmaus. They race back in the dark about 7 miles to Jerusalem to join the apostles to tell them what happened. They find out that others including Peter have also met Jesus. Then Jesus suddenly appears in the room and wishes them shalom, peace. They were startled and terrified, and rightfully so. The two from Emmaus saw Jesus disappear before their eyes, and now He just appears in the room? They all thought they were seeing a ghost, just like when Jesus was coming at them walking on water. 

 

In His resurrected body, Jesus was not bound by time and space. He could just appear and disappear and disguise His looks. He had the wounds of crucifixion, He had a physical body that could be touched and he ate food. Later they saw Him float up in the sky, out of sight. We don’t have language to describe His glorified body if He appeared to us any better than the gospel writers. This is a glimpse of how our resurrected bodies will be someday. Imagine a loved one of yours who passed and you buried, suddenly appearing like this to you, asking for something to eat, and letting you hug them? Everyone knew that Jesus had been horribly killed. They were startled and terrified, as we would be. But Jesus calmed them down, let them touch Him, ate some fish, and then He started their education. This would be the greatest Bible study lesson ever! 

 

This is such an important Biblical event. Jesus is the center of the whole Bible, bridging the Old and New testaments. St. Augustine stated the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New. This gospel passage says “Jesus opened their minds to understanding the scriptures.” They are the same words to describe the walk on the road to Emmaus. He explained to them how everything written in the Torah by Moses, all the prophets, and the psalms were pointing to Him. If you have studied the Old Testament, as you read the gospels you will note  that so much of Jesus’ words are right out of the Hebrew Scriptures. And when you read the Old Testament, as you recall the gospel stories you can imagine Jesus reading and memorizing these words and learning about His mission and fulfilling it. Everything about how Jesus lived His life, taught, healed, submitted to His death, and His resurrection were all prophesied. In these 40 days of lessons the disciples got their knowledge to spread the good news to the ends of the earth.

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Today’s Theme:

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The Resurrection is very central to today’s readings. Without the resurrection, St. Paul says our faith is worthless. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then he was just a good man with a sad ending. 

 

It was God’s plan to allow the crucifixion. Both our first reading and the gospel passage explain the two reasons why Jesus died. He died for our sins, and He died in accordance with the scriptures.

 

The Resurrection has to be the single most important event in human history. Our calendar is split on the time of Jesus’ life: before and after. Jesus was an historical person, and His Resurrection was an historical event, it truly happened. There are basically 5 counter arguments against the reality of it, and they are all easily refuted by what is written in the scriptures, by the historical events that followed in the apostles era, and in the writings of the great saints of the early Church. Jesus Himself predicted his suffering, death, and rising from the dead several times. And none of the counter arguments for the Resurrection have any evidence to support of their “theories.”

 

If Jesus had only died and not risen from the dead, then He would have only been a human person, a failed religious leader who was murdered, who offered many interesting ideas on how to live and worship God. We could just pick and choose which of His teachings made sense to us, like the sayings of Confucius. The apostles and we would be left alone to our own judgment. His miracles and signs would just be a matter of wonder and curiosity. And if He just simply lived and then died a horrible death, in an unjust trial, silently taking the blows and stripes and then forgiving His enemies, who wouldn’t think, “if this happened to a good and innocent man, why would I want to follow His example?” But He rose from the dead, in a new unknown way, outside of the laws of nature and biology, in a body that would no longer be subject to death. He was not a dream or a vision, He was not a ghost, He still was physical, but with super abilities still unknown to us, in a new dimension of life and human existence. As humans, our souls are subject to our bodies. But the resurrected Jesus, His body was now subjected to His soul. No one ever did such a thing before or ever since, and only such a radical event can explain why the apostles and His followers gave up everything, including eventually their lives, to tell the world about Him.

 

But why didn’t Jesus show Himself to everyone, including those who crucified Him, and why didn’t He stay longer than 40 days, or never leave and always be with us? And why are His appearances so mysterious, why don’t the gospels have more details? We want details! But all through the Old Testament, God slowly revealed Himself to the Israelites, gradually entering the history of mankind. He took over 2000 years from Abraham to Jesus. Yet isn’t that the way with God even in our own experience? We move from feeling close to Him and at times He seems far away. He doesn’t overwhelm us with His presence, He doesn’t seem to answer every prayer as it leaves our lips, but works gently in our lives, counting on our faith and trust in Him, and always respecting our freedom and free will. We can ask Him what is His will for us, but His answer is to trust Him. We see Him more in retrospect in our lives than in the present. As Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.”

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Theme in Our Life

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In thinking about the Resurrection, how did the Church grow so quickly and spread over a large geographic area? And how did it grow in spite of persecution, imprisonment, and martyrdom? The message they proclaimed was that Jesus had been crucified and then rose from the dead, it’s a constant message throughout the New Testament. It was through preaching the gospel, certainly, but Christianity really grew through living the life of a follower of Jesus. It was the example they set, even under the worst circumstances. Outsiders would comment, “look at how they love one another.” And seeing them willing to die for their faith was something that others were amazed at, and drawn to. 

 

Catholics, compared to many Protestant followers, are not as well versed in the Bible. Sometimes non-Catholics try to overwhelm Catholics with their vast knowledge of scripture, and can use it like a hammer or grenade against them. It was only after Vatican II that Catholics in large numbers began to be encouraged and interested in the Bible, and the first reading from the Old Testament was added to the Mass. But Catholics have always had something the others did not have, the Eucharist. The two from Emmaus knew who Jesus WAS through scripture, but in the breaking of the bread they now could see who Jesus IS. And at that point, they couldn’t hold it in, they had to share the good news. Jesus did not send them to go as witnesses but that’s exactly what they did, they went immediately, ignoring the dangers of the night roads, to tell the other disciples about the encounter with the risen Jesus.

 

Wouldn’t it be sad really to enter heaven and be shown a list of souls you saved, but to find only yourself on the list? Rather, wouldn’t a long list of souls be great, including those you loved, and also some surprise names you never knew you saved? That’s what followers of Jesus wanted to do, and that’s how the Church grew. Your faith has to grow from “I think” or “I believe” in Jesus to “I know”, and to want to proclaim to others “I was lost, but now am found, I was blind, but now I see.”  

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Preparing for Sunday

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To Prepare for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word, consider the following:

 

1.  The Resurrection and Ascension are not just a happy ending to a story of suffering and death. The Mass commemorates not only Last Supper and the death of Jesus, but the Resurrection and Ascension as well. They are all part of our redemption. At the next Mass, think on these things.

 

2. To learn more of what the Church teaches about the Resurrection, refer to the Catechism, read paragraphs 638 through 658. It is 6 pages of very interesting reading.

 

 

And now a mediation on the Resurrection:

Amazing grace how sweet the sound

that saved a wretch like me.

For I once was lost but now I’m found

was blind but now I see.

 

Hallelujah, Christ is risen from the grave,

Hallelujah, Christ is risen from the grave.

 

The prodigal is welcomed home

The sinner now a saint.

For the God who died came back to life

and everything is changed.

 

Hallelujah, Christ is risen from the grave,

Hallelujah, Christ is risen from the grave.

 

(Phil Wickham, “Christ Is Risen”)