Third Sunday of Easter, Year A



Third Sunday of Easter, Year A

First Reading: Acts 2:14, 22-33; Response: Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-21; Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

The context of the first reading is the day of Pentecost, a Greek word meaning 50th – that is, the 50th day after Passover. We witness the first Christians breaking out in the gift of tongues. Those who had just received the Holy Spirit began proclaiming the wonderful works of God in their own language or Galilean dialect, yet people from every corner of the Roman Empire understood them in their own languages. Some bystanders were laughing at this strange occurrence, suggesting the speakers were drunk. At this point, Peter stood before the crowd and denied their drunkenness because it was too early in the day – 9 a.m. – to be drunk. He could have said, “We are not drunk with spirits, but with the Holy Spirit of God.” To bolster his claim that this outbreak of enthusiasm is of divine origin, he quotes the 4th century B.C. prophet Joel, who spoke about God pouring out his Spirit upon all humankind.

At this point, our second reading begins. It is important to note that one should not expect a word-for-word transcription of a sermon by Simon Peter. Luke is writing 50 years after the events he portrays. He is following the custom of Greek literature, which considered it quite valid to write what a person would or should have said on a given occasion. What we hear in this reading is Luke’s composition of a standard sermon or homily of the 80s of the first Christian century. The mighty deeds, wonders, and signs attributed to Jesus are quickly passed over to get to the heart of the homily — a quote from Psalm 16:8-10, which was adapted by Christian teachers into a prediction of the resurrection of Jesus. The Psalmist, claimed by Luke to have been King David, puts his trust in the Lord that “you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor allow your holy one, (himself), to see corruption.” The argument follows: since David died, was buried, and his tomb was still in existence, and since he was a prophet, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of Jesus. He affirmed his faith in the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus at God’s side. Receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit from his Father, Jesus poured out that Spirit upon those whose enthusiastic proclamation the crowd was witnessing at that moment.

The response psalm is the same Psalm 16 quoted in the sermon above. The people’s response is, “Lord, you will show us the path of life.” In the context of today’s liturgy, this is a prayer for our own resurrection. The second reading continues a series of readings from the First Letter of St. Peter. The author exhorts his readers to holiness because God is holy. They know well that God is an impartial judge of each one’s deeds, so they must be careful about their conduct. Besides the motive of being holy because God is holy, a second motive is the fact that they were ransomed from their former life – not with money, “but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless, unblemished lamb.” This is a reference to the law guiding the selection of a lamb for the Passover meal (See Exodus 12:5). This being the season when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus for seven weeks, there must be a reference to the resurrection and glorification of Jesus. The author notes that these were known for all eternity, but not revealed until the final time; the time of Christianity.

The gospel reading is the Emmaus event. Emmaus was a town seven miles west of Jerusalem. Pilgrims from Passover in Jerusalem were now on their way home. Two were from Emmaus. They were discussing recent events in Jerusalem concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus must have been a fast walker because he drew near to them. He asked what they were discussing. Sadly, they told him about what had happened to Jesus. Luke, the author of the story, takes the opportunity to review the events. At the end of the review, the two pilgrims note how some women “from our group,” (indicating that they too, like the women, were disciples of Jesus), had found the empty tomb and claimed to have seen angels. The angels proclaimed to the women that Jesus was alive. They checked out the women’s report, and the tomb was indeed empty.

Now it was Jesus’ time to talk. First, he reprimands them for being “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke.” Thus, Luke reprimands doubting Christians of his own time. It was taken for granted that the Old Testament prophets, centuries earlier, had predicted in detail what had happened to Jesus. Luke states the amazing theology that Jesus had to suffer these things as the path to glory. What does that say about our own path to glory? The risen Lord returns to his teaching ministry; “beginning with Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament), and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in the Scriptures.” Jesus demonstrates what Matthew had written of him earlier in his ministry: “He taught them as one having authority.” Their reaction comes later. “Were not our hearts burning within us … while he opened the Scriptures to us?” Every homilist would be grateful to have such a reaction to a homily that opens the Sunday Mass Scripture readings to a congregation.

It was evening. The pilgrims reached their destination. Politely they ask the Stranger to stay overnight. Hospitality was a major part of early Christian life. It was time for supper. This supper, like the Passover Supper that became the Last Supper, merges into “the breaking of the bread,” an early name for the Eucharist. Luke uses the standard Eucharistic words, “He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.” In these actions, they recognized the Stranger who had instructed them. Jesus vanished from their sight. How similar to ourselves. Though we cannot see him, we recognize him in the breaking of the bread. As Jesus said to his disciples on the night of the day of his resurrection, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.” What remains to be done? Proclamation! They rush back to Jerusalem and report the sighting of Jesus to the gathered Christian community.