3rd Sunday of Easter Year C
By Fr. Nathan Mamo, S.T.L.
The Book of the Acts of the Apostles is the second scroll (book) written by the same evangelist who wrote the Gospel According to Luke. As the title states, this work is about the actions of the earliest Christians, those who lived in what we call the Apostolic Age. The age spanned the years from the days of Pontius Pilate (26-36 AD) when Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead (aka the Paschal Event) to the martyrdom deaths of Peter and Paul, traditionally dated during the later years of the reign of the Emperor Nero, from 54 to 68 AD. Acts concludes after reporting that Paul had arrived in the vicinity of Rome where he awaited his trial before the emperor.
Today’s episode in Acts describes the controversy which preaching Jesus crucified and raised caused in Jerusalem. Remember, the disciples were still entirely Jewish. From the occasion of Pentecost they had become fearless about preaching their evolving Gospel of hope. According to the logical sense of chronology, Jesus was still publically remembered as an executed criminal in the minds of Jerusalem’s religious leaders. The length of time from the death of Jesus at Passover to the festival of Pentecost was not quite two months (Pentecost means 50 days). To hail him as a hero risen from the dead, with powers to console, heal and save, was indeed politically incorrect so soon. The tone of the dialogue in today’s text was remarkably civil and polite. The Sanhedrin presumed that it’s authority alone was sufficient to terminate the apostolic preaching. The disciples interpreted reality rather differently and wore the official rebuke as a badge of honor. We must take care to notice that the text shows the disciples preached both effectively and appropriately. In other words, the Gospel’s delivery was neither self-righteous nor arrogant. It’s delivery was not meant to be destructive to normal life. Rather, it was “good news,” i.e., attractive, constructive and edifying in it’s own right. The apostolic example was that the messenger must not get in the way of the message. The manner in which the good news was delivered then, and today, makes a great deal of difference. Even the reason Paul found himself about to be tried by the vicious Emperor Nero was that he sought a stage from which to preach and teach which would address the whole world, at least metaphorically. There was no hate speech, no contempt, no rudeness, no arrogant ridicule used to evangelize. The various sermons, dialogues and even the disputes throughout the Acts of the Apostles all began with appeal, persuasion and reasoning from the heart. Such must be the foundation of our own normal, domestic and neighborly evangelization style: good example, humble service, thoughtful and reasonable good sense, prayerful and truthful integrity. These virtues proclaim the Gospel most clearly and attract enquirers to Christ most sincerely.
Today’s second reading, from the Apocalypse of John, depicts – in fantastic, metaphorical, symbolic language – the slain but Risen and Victorious Jesus, as Lamb of God and Lamb of Sacrifice. This is set in the Heavenly Court where he is about to open the sealed scroll of revelation which he had just taken from God’s hand. Both the indescribable Divine Presence (God) and the Victorious Jesus receive the sung praises from all creatures “in the heavens and on earth and under the earth and in the sea.” This is an image beyond any measure and grasp of the human imagination. First, the wonder and glory of the Divine Mystery, and secondly, the focus and worship of the entire universe, both spiritual and physical, are put forth here. Why attempt to describe the indescribable? To encourage hope! John’s Apocalypse proclaimed ultimate hope to the persecuted Churches of Asia Minor in the 90s AD. The modern Church’s lectionary wants us to wrestle with the Mystery of God especially as we contemplate the Mysteries of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. Impossible, yes; but helpful for the sake of moving us, the modern Gospel audience, to appreciate life from the largest possible frame of reference. If we are successful at that, then we can begin to comprehend the largeness and fullness of the Salvation offered us by Christ and God. Note that the universe we imagine is infinitely larger than the one in the imaginations of 1st Century Christians. Thus, our modern image of God must necessarily be larger than the 1st Century image of God!
Today’s Gospel narrative allows us to assume that the initial excitement about Jesus’ Resurrection has possibly calmed down a bit. Peter, Thomas, Nathan Bartholomew, James and John, and two others had all returned to Galilee and resumed their fishing livelihood. This third appearance of Jesus in John’s account (the first two had occurred in Jerusalem; see last Sunday’s Gospel lesson) was away from the Jewish center of the universe and in the home territory of the Galilean Apostles. This Resurrection Appearance, the minor miracle of the numerous fishes and unbroken net, the awkward breakfast of fish and bread – all these describe the burning wonder within them about who or what the Risen Jesus was. This dramatic tension won’t resolve until Pentecost, but that consideration has to await that festival. John uses this setting as an antidote to Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus during his Passion. The three-fold profession of Peter’s love for Jesus with the resultant exhortation to the metaphorical office of shepherd-leader amount to a kind of post-Resurrection commissioning of Peter to leadership. Remember, it was in this same Gospel account that Jesus said of himself, “I am the good shepherd ...” (John 10). Here the office of shepherd is being handed over to Peter. Complications will come with the mantle of office. It will be neither simple nor easy. An unjust martyr’s death will come with it, just as it had for Jesus. In all four Gospel accounts, discipleship was bestowed in serious tones, often coupled with a prediction of the Passion which Jesus would suffer. Even in the not-yet-clear reality of Resurrection, the necessary connection among ministry, theological reflection and the suffering disciples must endure, is being described by the Victorious Jesus.
Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!