Third Sunday of Easter
Again this weekend, the Church presents as its first reading for liturgy in Eastertime a passage from the Acts of the Apostles.
The mere construction of Acts is a lesson. It is a continuation of St. Luke’s Gospel. Its underlying lesson is that the salvation achieved by the Lord Jesus did not end with the Ascension. The presence of Jesus in the world did not end with the Ascension. The Risen Lord, ascended into heaven before the very eyes of the Apostles, absent the dead Judas, lives and acts through the Christian community, a community of visible structure, with specific functions.
This reading reports a conflict between the Sanhedrin, led by the high priest, and the Apostles. The Sanhedrin was the official ruling council of Judaism at the time of Jesus. Its agenda was primarily religious, but its authority touched virtually every aspect of life. Again, and important to note, Peter was the spokesman for all the Apostles. He was their leader.
Ordered to stop preaching about Jesus, the Apostles boldly reaffirmed their intention not to stop. No earthly power could deflect them from fulfilling their commission from the Lord. As was the case in earlier weekends, Peter offered here a capsulized story of the life and mission of Christ.
The Book of Revelation is the source of the second reading. Probably no other book of the New Testament, and few in the Old Testament, perennially leave readers wondering as does Revelation.
Revelation is clear. It refers to Jesus as the sinless lamb of God, the title used by John the Baptist for the Lord, an overpowering reference to the fact that Christians stand with one foot on earth, the other in heaven, for they stand in and with Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, a woman.
St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading. It is a Resurrection narrative, wondrous and consoling. Jesus, risen from death, appeared to the Apostles as, without luck, they were fishing on the Sea of Galilee. At dawn, recalling the time of the Resurrection, Jesus came into their midst. He told them exactly where to cast their nets. They obeyed, and a huge catch resulted. The beloved disciple recognized Jesus, but Peter is central to the story. He rushed to Jesus.
Then, at a meal, Jesus asked Peter if he really loved Jesus. It was a question put to Peter three times, with three affirmative responses. In ancient Jewish symbolism, three represented what was complete, final and absolute. After each answer, Jesus commissioned to Peter to love the Good Shepherd’s flock as if it were Peter’s own flock.
The commission is exact, final and unqualified. It sent Peter to continue the Lord’s work.
It would be difficult indeed to find three readings from the New Testament that individually are so beautiful and so expressive and that together teach such a marvelous lesson.
Setting the stage is the reading from Revelation. Disciples live with one foot on earth, but the other in heaven, and nowhere else is this reality better seen than in the Eucharist.
The very combination of Acts with Luke’s Gospel reminds us that the salvation accomplished by Christ still lives. It was with the early Christians gathered around the Apostles. It is with us still in the Apostle’s successors, and in the Church. The trial before the Sanhedrin reminds us that Peter’s fervor beside the sea, as Peter saw Jesus risen from the dead, never ended. After the betrayal, Peter changed. Forgiven by Christ, Peter was strong and confident. We can rely upon his testimony and his guidance.
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