Third Sunday of Easter, Year B

By Father Paul Nord, O.S.B.

Sunday Scripture

First Reading: Acts of the Apostles  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

Today’s section from Acts 3 directly follows Peter’s “miracle at the temple” (3:1-11). That is, Peter healed – in Christ’s name – a man crippled from birth who was begging for alms from people entering the temple. Peter told the crippled man: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk” (Acts 3:6). Following this miraculous act of power in Christ’s name, Peter proceeds to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in 3:13-26. This unites the witness of Peter’s healing action with the witness of Peter’s words. Both witness to Jesus the Messiah.

Peter begins by invoking God in a manner that his fellow Jews would recognize: “The God of Abraham ... of Isaac ... of Jacob ... of our fathers.” Then Peter directly states that God has “glorified his servant Jesus.” Next Peter says that they “handed over” and “denied” Jesus. Peter is accusing them of sin – but Peter also anticipates God’s mercy in the last line of our reading where Peter tells them: “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away."

Peter calls Jesus “the Holy and Righteous One” and “the author of life.” Although the people put Jesus to death “God raised him from the dead.” Peter proclaims, “Of this we are witnesses.” The apostles’ witness – under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration – is a key theme of the Acts of the Apostles. After Peter describes the people’s sins against Jesus, he acknowledges that both they and their leaders “acted out of ignorance.” Thus their guilt is reduced. Peter explains that God had foretold his plan through the prophets. God’s plan – now realized – was that “his Christ would suffer.” Peter’s closing call for their repentance is a clear path to their reconciliation and acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah – if they accept it.

Our second reading is from the first letter of John. It shows a spiritual father caring for his spiritual children – to whom he has proclaimed Christ’s Gospel. In the first verses, the spiritual father seeks to protect his spiritual children from sin. First, he warns them not to commit sin. But then he adds “if anyone does sin” we can turn to Jesus Christ who is our “Advocate with the Father.” Further Jesus “is expiation for our sins, and ... for those of the whole world.” 

A new section begins with, “The way we may be sure ...” These verses connect “knowing” Jesus with “keeping his commandments.” Through the Incarnation, Jesus has revealed God to us, so that we might know him. But “knowing” God intellectually must develop into the “knowing” of relationship. Jesus says in the Gospel of John “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). Thus Jesus invites us into relationship with him – if we are willing to obey him. Today’s verses from the first letter of John have the same message: “The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments.” That is, if we keep Jesus’ commandments, we are in true relationship with him such that “we know him.” The person who “keeps his word” is the one who obeys Jesus’ commands. Thus “the love of God” will be realized and “perfected” in such a follower of Christ.

Our gospel reading (Luke 24) immediately follows the encounter between Jesus and two disciples who are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. This Emmaus section (24:13-35) concludes with the two disciples quickly returning to Jerusalem – where they tell their experience to “the eleven” apostles, and others who are gathered with them.

Today’s gospel then says: “While they were still speaking about this, [Jesus] stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” Jesus appears to his closest followers as a group. Jesus recognizes that they are troubled, and that they think he might be a ghost. Invoking peace upon them, Jesus offers multiple proofs that he is truly risen from the dead – bodily. First, Jesus invites them to “touch” and “see” his hands and feet – which have been wounded by his crucifixion. Second, he asks for them for something to eat. When they give Jesus “a piece of baked fish,” he eats it in their presence – as a person can do only if they are truly alive in body.

Jesus next prepares his followers for mission as witnesses to his gospel. First, Jesus returns to his pre-crucifixion message that “the prophets and psalms” foretold his coming. But now Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Before his death and resurrection, the disciples were confused and confounded by Jesus citing the prophets as evidence that he must “suffer and rise from the dead.” Now – post-resurrection – Jesus gives the disciples the grace to understand his words, and the words of the prophets. His disciples will also receive the Holy Spirit to further guide them in understanding these truths.

Jesus charges his disciples with being witnesses to three things: 1) that the Christ suffered, 2) that the Christ rose from the dead on the third day, and 3) repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name for all nations. 

Therefore Jesus’ gospel is for all humanity. Jesus’ disciples are charged with preaching this gospel “to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Luke’s emphasis on these words of Jesus prepares nicely for the Acts of the Apostles. Recall that St. Luke carefully shaped his gospel to be “part one” of a two-part work – of which the Acts of the Apostles is “part two.” In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus appears to his disciples and tells them “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This closely resembles Jesus’ words to the disciples at the end of today’s Gospel (near the end of Luke’s Gospel): “[preach] to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses” (Luke 24:47-48).