By FATHER DONALD DILGER
Third Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Response: Psalm 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9; Second Reading: 1 John 2:1-5a; Gospel: Luke 24:35-48
The context of the first reading from Acts of Apostles: Peter and John were on the way to the temple for the 3 p.m. daily service. A man, lame from birth, was placed daily at one of the gates of the temple to beg. He appealed to Peter and John for alms as they passed by. Peter replied, “Gold and silver I have none, but I give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” Peter helped him stand. He not only walked, but “went with them into the temple walking and leaping and praising God.” The commotion drew attention as the former lame man was jumping around. People came running. Opportunity, knocking at the door — time for a sermon. Our reading gives us part of Peter’s address to the crowd. First, he assured them that they should not be surprised. It was not by the power of the apostles that the man was cured, but by the power of the name of Jesus and faith in that name. As the sermon continues, Peter establishes Jesus as an authentic Israelite.
To bring people to repentance involves recognition of sinfulness. Therefore, “whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence, when he had decided to release him.” Luke is engaged in apologetics. Throughout Acts and his gospel, he attempts to make the Romans look good. Why this concern? He is writing at a time when Christianity is separating from its mother Judaism. Judaism was a legal religion in the Roman Empire. When Christianity became distinct from its mother, it was no longer a legal religion and became subject to suspicion or even persecution. When earlier in his gospel, Luke depicts the Holy Family obedient to Roman law — the census, he was also engaged in apologetics — a defense of Christianity. It is a plea for legitimacy. He wants to show that Rome has nothing to fear from Christians. Back to the sins of Peter’s audience, “You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked that a murderer be released to you. The Author of life you put to death . . . .” Then he excuses them and their leaders because they acted out of ignorance. It was all in God’s plan revealed in the Old Testament. The grand finale: “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be forgiven.” Peter’s sermon continues at length. The result: the temple hierarchy had the apostles arrested.
Psalm 4 is attributed to King David (1,000 B.C.). To us it is part of the official night prayer of the Church. Thus, the verse, “As soon as I lie down I fall asleep, for you alone, Lord, bring security to my dwelling.” A note to Catholics who want no music in the liturgy: this Psalm and many other psalms were composed for accompaniment to stringed instruments. This Response Psalm does not seem to be an obvious response to the first reading. One might use this verse as a connection with the reading, “Know that the Lord does wonders for his faithful ones,” as a reference to the curing of the lame man by Peter.
The second reading continues the series from the 1st Letter of John. The author assures readers of the possibility of avoiding sin. If they do sin, there is a remedy. When someone commits a crime and is indicted, he needs a lawyer. So it is with sin. “We have an Advocate (attorney for the defense) with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.” How does that work? “He is expiation for our sins, ours and those of the whole world.” We connect with him by doing his commandments. The author warns sinners that those who say they know Jesus but do not do his commandments are liars. Tough love from a pastor! He ends on a positive note. Those who keep his word (commandments) have perfect love of God.
Today’s gospel narrates the encounter between Jesus and two of his disciples from Emmaus about seven miles from Jerusalem. They had been in the city for Passover and were going home. They were discussing the events in Jerusalem concerning Jesus. He was walking on the same road. Drawing near, he walked along with them and decided to have some fun. They did not recognize him. He asked them the subject of their discussion. They asked him if he was the only one who was ignorant of the events in Jerusalem. Jesus replies, “What events?” They relate, in some detail, how this great prophet Jesus of Nazareth had been executed, but now some women claimed that they had visited the tomb that very morning and it was empty. Some angels at the tomb said he was alive. Jesus (or Luke) assumes a teaching mode. He scolds them for being slow to understand that what happened to Jesus was planned by God and revealed in the Scriptures. Jesus goes through the prophets, all by memory, and shows them how it was all there for anyone to see. As evening came, they were close to their destination for that day, ready to lodge for the night. Jesus pretended to walk on. They invited him to stay with them.
While at supper, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. This indicates that by the time Luke wrote his gospel in the 80s of the first Christian century, the form of liturgy of the Eucharist was well-established. Even 30 years earlier Paul had written the same form to his Corinthian Christians. The two disciples now recognized Jesus, and he disappeared. They hurried back to Jerusalem and reported their encounter to the apostles. Here our gospel of the day begins. Jesus suddenly stood among the gathered apostles. They thought he was a ghost. He showed them his wounds. They still doubted, so he ate a piece of broiled fish as proof of being real. Jesus (or Luke) again assumes a teaching mode. The blueprint for everything that happened to him was in the Torah (Moses), the Prophets, and in the Writings (Psalms). These are the three divisions of the Old Testament documents. Christian interpretation and the giving of new meaning to the Scriptures was well-established by Luke’s time. That interpretation is what Luke is teaching in this story. The gist of it: it all had to happen like it did because God had revealed it in the Scriptures.