Acts 3:13-15, 17-19 The first of today’s readings comes from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, which is the second volume following his gospel. The scene is Peter addressing a group of people that had come to him with wonder and curiosity after he had cured a lame beggar at one of the temple gates. It is obvious to us that this is definitely not the Peter who cowered in the courtyard when the servant girl pointed him out as a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. This is a courageous Peter filled with the Spirit and intent on confirming to his fellow Jews that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. He declared that it was faith in Jesus Christ that had enabled the lame man to get up and walk.
Peter then went on to make the dangerous accusation that the people listening to him had been party to the torture and death of Jesus. He accused them of blindly rejecting a good and upright man in favour of a murderer, and of killing the author of life. But God vindicated his son and raised him from the dead. As a Jew speaking to fellow Jews, Peter shows how the life and death of Jesus was the fulfilment of Scripture. In this way he tries to make the whole Jesus phenomenon understandable and acceptable to a Jewish audience. He quotes from the book of Deuteronomy (18:15) that the Lord will one day raise up a prophet like Moses, a prophet that must be listened to, and, of course, he points to Jesus as that prophet.
Peter concludes with an invitation to the people to turn back to God. The Greek verb Luke uses here is metanoiēsate, which means change your mind, change direction and turn back to God. It generally gets translated as repent, but it implies much more than just being sorry. It implies a life-change and a resetting of our compass to focus on what leads to growth in our relationship with God.
Psalm4 The responsorial psalm contains a cherished Hebrew metaphor for being gracious. The poet sings, ‘Let the light of your face shine on us,’ which expresses the idea of a smiling, encouraging face looking graciously on another. This follows upon the metaphor of God being gracious to those who are loved. The Hebrew word for being gracious, showing favour and compassion is khanan and it conveys the notion of giving of oneself to reach out to another. The name ‘John’ comes from the Hebrew Yokhanan meaning Yah (God) acts graciously, with compassion. The poet of this psalm concludes with a powerful expression of confidence affirming that he has no trouble sleeping because he enjoys deep tranquillity (shalom) secure in the knowledge that God enables him to live in quietness and safety.
Our conduct is the measure of our relationship with God
1 John 2:1-5 There is a strong Jewish flavour in the second reading from the first letter of John to his community. In the previous chapter he insists that no one can say they have not done wrong at some point. Our human weakness makes sin inevitable, but John states that in Jesus we have someone who will go in to bat for us, who will plead on our behalf with God. John then writes that we can secure a close relationship with God by the way we live, by the values we adopt and the priorities we establish. This amounts to keeping his instructions for wholehearted living.
John draws on the Hebrew notion of knowing someone by personal connection and experience. The Hebrew verb yada means to know through personal experience, not just by reading or being told about something but by a particular encounter. So, when John writes that if someone says, ‘I know God,’ that statement can only be convincing if the person has an authentic lifestyle that is characterised by godly values. It is then that our conduct becomes the measure of our closeness to God. When we follow the teachings of Christ God’s love comes to fulfilment in us. The word ‘perfection’ is unfortunate in this translation because it implies flawlessness, the unattainable, whereas the idea here is that in following Christ’s word a person’s love of God will grow to completion, to wholeness, to a degree of fulfilment.
Luke 24:35-48 Our gospel reading portrays the scene of the two disciples, who had experienced the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, re-joining the eleven and their companions. Notice this is a larger group of men and women, more than just the eleven and one or two extra. While they are relating their extraordinary episode, the risen Jesus stood in their midst. Naturally, the witnesses to this phenomenon were alarmed and apprehensive. In fact, Luke uses the Greek verb ‘to be terrified’ because they thought they were seeing a ghost. Luke is concerned to stress the continuity between the Jesus, who walked and talked with his friends before he was murdered, and the risen Christ. With his question Jesus is emphatically saying, ‘It really is me. Touch me and see for yourselves.’ There are obvious parallels here with the appearance of Jesus described in John’s gospel except that the disciples in John are joyful at seeing Jesus while in Luke they are initially terrified. In both scenes Jesus shows his hands and feet and invites the disciples to touch him. Luke brings food into his account and this is typical of Luke who portrays Jesus frequently using the intimacy of a meal
to engage with his friends and hosts. It is in the atmosphere of hospitality, friendship and sharing that Jesus is most comfortable and Luke reproduces an equivalent scenario in this post-resurrection event.
The disciples’ fear turns to joy when they realise Jesus is for real, but they are still too dumbfounded to offer him some food. So, Jesus asks if they have something to eat. We can imagine them pinching themselves and then feeling embarrassed that they were slack in offering hospitality. So, Jesus sits, and they bustle about getting some grilled fish to put in front of him – eyes still popping no doubt.
A modern reader with insight can see what Luke is doing in this scene. He is steering a middle course between presenting Jesus as a resuscitated corpse and describing him as merely a subjective spiritual apparition. There is a reality here that beggars description. In Jewish culture a person is a whole undivided entity; the inner self and the physical self make up the person. In Greek culture the human person is seen as a body and a life-giving spirit. In the gospels, the risen Christ is depicted as a whole human being, recognisable as Jesus of Nazareth, not just the spirit of Jesus – the same familiar person but changed. He eats food, so he is not a spiritual apparition. He enters and leaves a locked room, so he does not have the same physicality as before, and yet he is real. We can see the struggle of the gospel writers to deal with this reality. Without being flippant, we could sum it up in an Irish way: he is the same but different. Paul tries to grapple with this in his first letter to the Corinthians. He writes that when the time comes for our own rising at the ‘sound of the trumpet’ we will be changed ‘and this mortal body must put on immortality’ (1 Cor 15:53).
The disciples came alive with a new spirit of hope and awareness of mission
Luke then repeats the same kind of instruction that Jesus gave to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Those two disciples are present here with the others, so they are hearing it for the second time, namely, that Jesus and his whole mission are the fulfilment of Scripture; that it has all been part of a divine plan and the next stage will be played out when the disciples take the message of Christ to all nations. Jesus then instructs them to stay in Jerusalem until they are empowered by the Spirit to go out to the wider world.
In the resurrection narratives, particularly those of Luke and John, there is a tremendous portrait of companionship and a sense of union. The men and women, grouped together in the texts as ‘the disciples’ are starting to come alive with a new spirit of hope and awareness of mission. Jesus is the catalyst of love-fulfilled when it is shared in community. It is like an outpouring in the followers of Jesus that says, ‘We are now filled with optimism, hope and understanding. Let’s get on with it and bring Christ to those we meet.’ We can share the same reaction by contributing optimism and energy to the spirit and growth of whatever group, community or companionship we take part in. It does not have to be dramatic, but we can be quietly influential through the values we live by. A favourite quote of mine is found in the first letter of Peter: ‘ let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.’ (1 Peter 3:4).
The capacity to care gives life its deepest significance.
Pablo Casals (1876-1973 Catalonian, considered one of the greatest cellists of all time)
A smile of encouragement at the right moment may act like sunlight on a closed-up flower; it may be the turning point for a struggling life. Anonymous
A man is having his hair cut and tells his barber he is all excited. He says, ‘I’m flying with Alitalia to Rome, staying at the Rome Hilton and I’m going to see the Pope.’ Sceptical, the barber says, ‘Ha! Alitalia is a lousy airline, the Rome Hilton is a dump and when you see the Pope you’ll probably be standing behind 10,000 people.’
So the man goes to Rome and when he gets back he visits his barber who asks, ‘Well, how was it?’
‘Great!’ Alitalia was wonderful, the Hilton was superb, and I got to meet the Pope.’
‘You met the Pope?’ said the astonished barber.
‘Yes. I bent down to kiss the Pope’s ring.’
‘And what did he say?’
‘He said, “Where did you get that crummy haircut?”’