Apr 26, 2020: 3rd Sunday of Easter (A)

1st Reading – Acts 2:14, 22-33

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven,
raised his voice, and proclaimed:
“You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem.
Let this be known to you, and listen to my words.
You who are Israelites, hear these words.
Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God
with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs,
which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.
This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God,
you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.
But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death,
because it was impossible for him to be held by it.
For David says of him:
‘I saw the Lord ever before me,
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted;
my flesh, too, will dwell in hope,
because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,
nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

“My brothers, one can confidently say to you
about the patriarch David that he died and was buried,
and his tomb is in our midst to this day.
But since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him
that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne,
he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ,
that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld
nor did his flesh see corruption.
God raised this Jesus;
of this we are all witnesses.
Exalted at the right hand of God,
he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father
and poured him forth, as you see and hear.”

Today’s reading from Acts is part of Peter’s Pentecost speech, which he gives immediately after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-13).

In this speech we see Peter teaching about the risen Christ in the same way that Jesus is pictured as teaching about himself in today’s gospel reading.

He proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth, whom the Jews crucified, is the eagerly awaited Messiah promised by God; it is Jesus who has effected God’s saving plan for mankind.

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, “You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem. Let this be known to you, and listen to my words. You who are Israelites, hear these words. Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs, which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.

The Jewish nation believed that the eschatological age of fulfillment would be inaugurated by signs and wonders, by miracles that demonstrated the mighty power of God. Jesus himself appealed to this belief when earlier in his public ministry he responded to the question posed by John the Baptist (Matthew 11:5; Isaiah 35:5). Peter asserts that Jesus performed such works, which were witnessed by members of this audience.

Since such power could only come from God, this was proof that God was working through Jesus and that the eschatological age of fulfillment was dawning.

This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.

Peter places responsibility for Jesus’ death at the feet of both the Jewish people and the Roman officials. The first group handed him over; the second put him to death. However, this is not a sign of God’s disfavor, as his audience would have been inclined to believe: this all happened according to the plan and with the foreknowledge of God.

We should remember that Peter is talking to his compatriots, members of his own religious community, lest we allow his accusation to be interpreted in an anti-Judaic manner.

But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it.

God’s preordination of Jesus’ death does not diminish the people’s guilt. Sin is no less malignant because God uses it for good, and the sinner had no share in God’s salvific intentions.

God triumphs through human actions rather than despite them.

For David says of him:

Peter quotes the Greek version of Psalm 16:8-11, a psalm which has been attributed to King David. It is the only use of Psalm 16 in the New Testament.

‘I saw the Lord ever before me, with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted; my flesh, too, will dwell in hope, because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

This is a psalm of trust; King David has faith that God will protect him.

The tradition of Davidic authorship of the psalms and the divine pledge of David’s everlasting dynasty (2 Samuel 7:12-16) play a key role in the scriptural proofs of Saint Luke’s proclamation of Christ.

My brothers, one can confidently say to you about the patriarch David that he died and was buried, and his tomb is in our midst to this day.

In its original setting, the King David was expressing his trust that God would not let him die and be buried because of whatever difficulty he was undergoing at the time. However, in light of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the early Church saw a new level of meaning in the words.

1 Kings 2:10 tells us that David is buried in Jerusalem, and his tomb at Siloam was well known to Peter’s audience. Peter is arguing that the psalm therefore must not be referring to David himself.

When the psalmist’s words are applied to Jesus, they are understood to foreshadow the resurrection. Jesus’ body did not suffer corruption in the grave; rather, he rose from the dead.

But since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld nor did his flesh see corruption.

Peter uses Psalm 132:11 to re-interpret scripture:  The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath he will not revoke: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne.”

Having established that Psalm 16 cannot apply to David himself, it must be referring to a messianic descendant of David’s.

God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.

Peter is not claiming that David foretold Jesus’ resurrection. Rather, he is claiming that God’s hidden purposes are buried in the words of scripture. These words are now understood to have a deeper level of meaning by those who know from personal experience that Jesus has risen from the dead.

Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you see and hear.”

One of the earliest statements about the inner workings of the Trinity.

Peter speaks now under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who has been poured forth. Notice the corresponding change that has been worked in Peter: he preaches and argues boldly, whereas a mere fifty days earlier he had trembled at the word of a servant girl.

2nd Reading – 1 Peter 1:17-21

Beloved:
If you invoke as Father him who judges impartially
according to each one’s works,
conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning,
realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct,
handed on by your ancestors,
not with perishable things like silver or gold
but with the precious blood of Christ
as of a spotless unblemished lamb.

He was known before the foundation of the world
but revealed in the final time for you,
who through him believe in God
who raised him from the dead and gave him glory,
so that your faith and hope are in God.

This week we delve a little further into Saint Peter’s first apostolic letter. Peter was originally called Simeon in Hebrew (Simon being the Greek form of the name). Jesus renamed him Kepha (Hebrew/Aramaic) or Petros (Greek), transliterated in some texts as Cephas.  Simon Peter was a native of Bethsaida, a city in Galilee.  Like his father John and his brother Andrew, he was a fisherman. We know that he was married because Jesus healed his mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14).

In today’s reading, Peter looks carefully at the cost of salvation and the responsibilities that accompany it.

Beloved: if you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one’s works,

Calling upon a father as witness is swearing an oath (kaddush in Hebrew). In patriarchal societies, as the head of the household, the father would oversee the order of that household and act as disciplinarian.

God is infinitely merciful, but he is also infinitely just: there is a judgment, and he is the judge.

conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning,

As we saw last week, the “sojourning” to which Peter refers is our time on earth. A sojourn is a journey to a clearly defined destination; in a very real sense, believers belong not to this world but to the world to which they sojourn.

realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors,

The people have already been ransomed by God from the futile manner of living they inherited from their ancestors, the patterns of living into which they had been socialized.

Even though believers had already been ransomed (i.e., redeemed), they have very specific obligations to accomplish while on the journey of this life. Failure to meet these obligations makes them (and us) liable to divine judgment.

not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.

The price of this redemption was neither gold nor silver but the blood of Christ.

Ancient Israelite Law stated that the Passover sacrifice was to be a spotless unblemished lamb (Exodus 12:5). Christian faith maintains that Christ was the only perfect lamb, and it was his blood that ransomed us — a redemption that was prophesied by Isaiah (52:3).

“If the unfortunate Jews observe the Sabbath in such a way that they do not dare to do any secular work on it, how much more should those who have been “redeemed, not with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ,’ pay attention to their price and devote themselves to God on the day of His resurrection, thinking more diligently of the salvation of their souls?” [Caesar of Arles (A.D. 542), Sermons, 73,4]

He was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you, who through him believe in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

The participial structure of this verse and its formulaic character support the idea that the death and resurrection of Christ were in God’s plan from the beginning; it was not merely a remedy for the state of human sinfulness.

The eschatological parameters of God’s plan are explicitly sketched here.  Redemption through Christ was determined before the foundation of the world, but it will be revealed fully in the final age. And when will the final age dawn? The Jews believed the Messiah would usher it in, but Christians reinterpreted this expectation a bit.  While it had indeed burst forth with the coming of the Messiah, it had not yet totally unfolded.  For this reason, the Christians are exhorted to live in faith with hope.

Gospel – Luke 24:13-35

That very day, the first day of the week,
two of Jesus’ disciples were going
to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
He asked them,
“What are you discussing as you walk along?”
They stopped, looking downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,
“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem
who does not know of the things
that have taken place there in these days?”
And he replied to them, “What sort of things?”
They said to him,
“The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word
before God and all the people,
how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over
to a sentence of death and crucified him.
But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;
and besides all this,
it is now the third day since this took place.
Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:
they were at the tomb early in the morning
and did not find his body;
they came back and reported
that they had indeed seen a vision of angels
who announced that he was alive.
Then some of those with us went to the tomb
and found things just as the women had described,
but him they did not see.”
And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are!
How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!
Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things
and enter into his glory?”
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them what referred to him
in all the Scriptures.
As they approached the village to which they were going,
he gave the impression that he was going on farther.
But they urged him, “Stay with us,
for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”
So he went in to stay with them.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other,
“Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem
where they found gathered together
the eleven and those with them who were saying,
“The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”
Then the two recounted
what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.

This report of the encounter with Christ on the road to Emmaus is probably one of the best-known resurrection stories.  In addition to being an exquisite literary narrative, it is rich with theological themes. There is a parallel account in Mark 16:12-13.

That very day, the first day of the week,

This reading occurs immediately after Luke’s empty tomb story and before the story of the appearance to the eleven disciples in Jerusalem. Notice it is “that very day,” the first day of the week when the empty tomb is discovered — the first Easter Sunday.

two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,

It has been suggested that these two may be part of the seventy-two (or seventy) sent out in pairs in Luke 10:1.  The location of the village is unknown today. The name Emmaus means “hot spring.”

and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.

Even though the two disciples are thinking and talking about Jesus, when Jesus joins them they do not recognize him. They were not apostles or intimate friends with Jesus, but disciples — which means simply that they were followers. This may help explain why they didn’t recognize Jesus.

The disciples were probably returning home from the celebration of Passover, and they most likely assumed that the unrecognized Jesus was a fellow traveler on the road for the same reason.

Throughout his gospel, Saint Luke plays on the theme of seeing, as seen in the revelatory features of this account. The risen Christ will open the eyes of the disciples to see his true meaning in God’s plan.

He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast.

The two disciples are completely dejected because their hopes about Jesus have been dashed.

One of them, named Cleopas,

From Eusebius (A.D. 263-339) we learn that Cleopas was the brother of Joseph, Jesus’ foster father and father of Symeon. Symeon succeeded James as Bishop of Jerusalem and after A.D. 70 led the Christians back to Jerusalem.

“After the martyrdom of James and the capture of Jerusalem which instantly followed, there is a firm tradition that those of the apostles and disciples of the Lord who were still alive assembled from all parts together with those who, humanly speaking, were kinsmen of the Lord — for most of them were still living. Then they all discussed together whom they should choose as a fit person to succeed James, and voted unanimously that Symeon, son of the Cleopas mentioned in the gospel narrative, was a fit person to occupy the throne of the Jerusalem see. He was, so it is said, a cousin of the Savior, for Hegesippus tells us that Cleopas was Joseph’s brother.” [Eusebius, The History of The Church (3.11)].

said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. 

Remarkably, they are not reluctant to describe the events of the past few days and to admit they had considered Jesus the fulfillment of the messianic expectations. At a time when those closest to Jesus seem to have withdrawn in fear for their own safety, these disciples are boldly telling a stranger that they had believed in him.

Their faithfulness sets the stage for a revelation of God.

Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive.

The disciples had stayed in Jerusalem long enough to hear the women’s report of an empty grave and of angels, but they obviously did not believe them or they would no longer be dejected.

Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.”

They are referring to Peter and John (John 20:3-10).

And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.

Jesus, still unrecognized, explains how the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures pointed to him. He assures them that nothing had gone wrong; rather they had been unable to see the saving hand of God in Jesus’ sufferings and death.

The teaching method that we have seen over and over in Matthew’s gospel — reinterpreting the words of the prophets in light of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection — is here attributed to the risen Christ.

What a Bible study that must have been!

As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. 

Jesus was not play-acting, he really would have departed had he not been invited to stay. This provided the disciples a further opportunity to reveal themselves. As we will see, their eyes are only fully opened after they show hospitality to a stranger.

But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

After being illuminated with the interpretation of Scripture, the now-responsive disciples beg Jesus to stay, which he was — and is — only too willing to do.

And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.

This is obviously eucharistic language; Jesus is doing just what he had done with the disciples at the Last Supper.

As in the Mass, Jesus first nourishes them on the word of God in Scripture, then on the bread of life.

With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.

The verb translated as “eyes were opened” occurs only eight times in the New Testament; in each case, it means a deeper understanding of revelation.

Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”

The disciples heard the Scriptures interpreted in a way that had never occurred to them before. Jesus has revealed how his death and resurrection were truly in accord with the Scriptures.

This causes their hearts to burn within them; it is what they have been waiting to hear all their lives.

People’s hearts also burned during our first reading when Peter interpreted Psalm 16 in a similar revelatory way: Acts 2:41 tells us that three thousand accepted Christ and were baptized that day.

So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem

The disciples finally understand that Jesus is still alive and in their midst. They rush back to Jerusalem to tell the others.

Notice that the two disciples are not at all upset at the loss (again) of their leader. In fact, they are anxious to tell the apostles of their discovery.

where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”

The two returning disciples had been on the road and had not heard of the others’ experience of the risen Lord.  It is only upon their return that they receive the news.

Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The movement of the narrative follows the pattern of early Christian worship: the Christian story is remembered (the disciples’ profession of what transpired), it is then interpreted (Jesus’ explanation of the scriptures in light of what they had witnessed), and the breaking of bread follows.  This is the basic form of our Mass to this day.

Connections and Themes

Life as a journey.  Life is not a static reality but rather a movement from one point to another. It is not so much that we make the journey but that we join one already in progress. We join those who have gone before us, those who have forged a path, those who have discovered the dark valley as well as the places of refreshment. Even the unfolding of our religious tradition can be characterized as a journey: it’s the path of meaning that we take throughout life.

We are not on this journey alone. We have companions with whom we can discuss all that has occurred. In fact, we need each other. We cannot journey alone — we need encouragement, support, and the talents and insights of others.

Surprises along the way.  The way we ordinarily negotiate the journey of life is really not the way the journey is negotiated. The two disciples traveling to Emmaus admitted they had certain expectations that Jesus did not fulfill.  They had hoped he would redeem Israel — they did not expect him to be put to death. Furthermore, they thought they were merely talking with a fellow traveler. They did not realize that Jesus had indeed redeemed Israel, and all other people as well. They did not realize that it was through his death that he accomplished this. Finally, they did not realize that the risen Lord himself was their traveling companion.

As with them, so with us. Something is happening beneath that we are able to observe. Christ is with us as an intimate traveling companion along the way.  After all, it was God who laid out the parameters of the journey of life, and it is God who is at work beneath and within what we can observe. Perhaps we don’t recognize this because, like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, we are “slow of heart to believe.” We do not see the extraordinary in the ordinary. We do not see the hand of God in our lives. Perhaps we need someone to interpret for us both the tradition and events of life.

With hearts burning within us. Once we realize who our traveling companion really is, our hearts will burn within us, our eyes will be opened, and we will look at life with eyes of faith. We will be able to recognize the working of God in the ordinary events of life, and we will proclaim this insight to others. This Easter faith will transform our disillusionment into missionary zeal. Some of us may be called upon to give more public witness, as was Peter. Most of us will preach with the example of our lives, as the words of Francis of Assisi suggest: Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words. All of us can enter into this mystery as we recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

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