3rd 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. Actually, 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 is 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 in fulfilling their commission from the Lord. As was the case in earlier weekends, Peter offers 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 not the more ancient, nor literarily precise, term. The older, and better, term is Apocalypse. However, most English-speaking biblical scholars have adopted the better known name of Revelation.)
Yet Revelation is clear. Again and again, it refers to Jesus as the sinless lamb of God, the title used by John the Baptist for the Lord. It is 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. It is wondrous and consoling. Jesus, risen from death, appears to the Apostles as, without luck, they are fishing on the Sea of Galilee. At dawn, recalling the time of the Resurrection, Jesus comes into their midst. He tells them exactly where to cast their nets. They obey, and a huge catch comes. The Beloved Disciple recognizes Jesus, but Peter is central to the story. He rushes to Jesus.
Then, at a meal, Jesus asks Peter if Peter really loves Jesus. It is a question put to Peter three, times, with three affirmative responses. In ancient Jewish symbolism, three represented what was complete, final and absolute. To each answer, Jesus commissions to Peter to love the Good Shepherd’s flock. His 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 in the Apostles. It is with us still in the Apostles’ 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, forgiven by Christ, Peter is worthy in his faith and love. We can rely upon his testimony and his guidance.
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