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Homily notes: Third Sunday of Easter Year B, 15 April 2018

Fr Brendan Byrne SJ |  08 April 2018

Lectionary reading

First reading: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19.

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 4:2, 4, 7, 9.

Second reading: 1 John 2:1-5.

Gospel: Luke 24:35-48.

Link to readings.

Commentary

One of the attractive features of St. Luke’s presentation of God’s saving action is that people get a “second chance.” An initial rejection of the message need not be final. This is made clear in the early chapters of Acts where, after Pentecost, the Apostles appeal to the Jewish leadership that had actually brought about the death of Jesus by handing him over to Pilate.

The language in which we hear this appeal in the First Reading, from Acts 3:13-15, 17-19, is uncompromising and, readers sensitive, as all should be, to Jewish-Christian relations, will perhaps flinch at the bluntness with which it recalls the story. Peter makes the point, though, that the leadership acted in “ignorance,” not knowing what was really at stake. More significantly still, a correct reading of the Scriptures shows that their very act of rejection was already foreseen by God and destined to be woven into a wider pattern of salvation.

Few Jews then and even fewer in subsequent generations have seen things this way. We should not read the text as an appeal to them now. But we can perhaps draw comfort from it in regard to our own failures and sinfulness and all that we regret about our lives. So often it is only much later that we realise the full consequences of wrongdoing on our part. Nothing, however, is too great a challenge for God’s power to draw such things into a wider pattern of salvation far outstripping our own understanding.

The Second Reading, 1 John 2.1-5, again confronts us with the somewhat roundabout logic of this letter from the Johannine community. Much of its concern revolves around the claim to “know God.” Some people—those of a Gnostic disposition—were obviously claiming to have a saving knowledge of God without that knowledge being reflected in the conduct of their lives. The writer insists that keeping the commandments, above all that of love (John 14:15, 21; 15:10), is the only sure test of real intimacy with God. The last sentence is very attractive: “When anyone does obey ... God’s love has come to perfection in (that person).” The statement reflects a clear sense of the divine initiative: the love of God has reached out to that person and enveloped their whole being. It has “come to perfection” in the sense of going on to activate their own capacity to love—in regard to both God and fellow members of the community.

The Gospel, Luke 24:35-48, takes us to the penultimate scene of Luke’s account of Jesus’ risen life (just prior to his departure from the earth at Bethany). It is Easter Sunday evening. The two disciples who have encountered the risen Lord on their journey to Emmaus have returned and shared their marvellous story. Now the disciples who have remained in Jerusalem are to meet the risen Lord themselves.

In the way typical of the resurrection appearances across all four Gospels, the risen Lord meets the disciples exactly where they are emotionally: fearful, agitated, slow to believe, thinking that what they are seeing is a ghost. Jesus takes considerable pains to overcome their disbelief by making clear the full physical reality of his presence. He urges them to see and touch him, and eats a piece of fish before their eyes (vv. 38-42). Luke dramatizes here—perhaps in an overly realistic way—what Paul also insists upon, writing to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:35-49): you cannot believe in the resurrection without believing that it involved—both for Jesus and for believers after him—full bodily existence.

 

Brendan Byrne, SJ, FAHA, taught New Testament at Jesuit Theological College, Parkville, Vic., for almost forty years. He is now Emeritus Professor at the University of Divinity (Melbourne). His commentaries on the Gospels can be found at Pauline Books and Media

 

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