Wednesday, April 7, 2010

They Recognized Him In The Breaking Of The Bread.

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter
April 7, 2010
Reading I
Acts 3:1-10
Peter and John were going up to the temple area
for the three o’clock hour of prayer.
And a man crippled from birth was carried
and placed at the gate of the temple
called “the Beautiful Gate” every day
to beg for alms from the people
who entered the temple.
When he saw Peter and John
about to go into the temple, he asked for alms.
But Peter looked intently at him,
as did John,
and said, “Look at us.”
He paid attention to them,
expecting to receive something from them.
Peter said, “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.”
Then Peter took him by the right hand
and raised him up,
and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong.
He leaped up, stood, and walked around,
and went into the temple with them,
walking and jumping and praising God.
When all the people saw him
walking and praising God,
they recognized him as the one
who used to sit begging
at the Beautiful Gate of the temple,
and they were filled
with amazement and astonishment
at what had happened to him.
Today we see the first healing performed by Peter and John. By this they show that the work of Jesus is continuing in them. The fact that two of them are involved in the healing also indicates that the work of Jesus is being done not so much by individuals (although that may happen) but by the community which he left to carry on his mission.

Our reading is the beginning of a longer passage with a dramatic public healing which results in a large group of people gathering to hear Peter make a Gospel proclamation. Some Sadducees, taking exception to what is being said about the resurrection of Jesus (they denied any life after death), will have Peter and John, and apparently the cured man as well, arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. There is also the matter of Peter and John teaching publicly in the Temple - something they had no authority to do. When Peter refuses to back down on the basis that he was speaking in a prophetic role, he and John should have been jailed but because the healing of the cripple, a well-known figure whose healing had been witnessed by many, the authorities backed down with just a warning.

We are told that Peter and John were on their way into the Temple in Jerusalem for the afternoon prayers. The three stated times of prayer for later Judaism were midmorning (third hour, 9 a.m.), the time of the evening sacrifice (ninth hour, 3 p.m.), and sunset. At this early stage in the Church’s life, the disciples maintained many of their former Jewish customs and practices. They did not see themselves as breaking away from their past, still less setting up a new religion.

Peter and John are among the most prominent of the apostles. Together with John’s brother, James, they formed an inner circle with Jesus (attending the healing of the daughter of Jairus, witnessing the Transfiguration, brought along to give support to Jesus during his agony in the garden). Peter and John will be arrested together and later we will see them evangelising in Samaria.

For them, Jesus was the continuation and the fulfilment of God’s promises to his people. Jesus was the Messiah long awaited by the Jewish people. Later, we will see how they began to realise that Jesus had come not just for the Jews but for people everywhere.

As they enter the Temple, they see a cripple being carried in. His friends brought him every day so that he could sit at the Beautiful Gate and collect alms from passers-by. This gate was the favourite entrance to the Temple court. It was probably the bronze-sheathed gate elsewhere called the Nicanor Gate. It seems to have led from the court of the Gentiles (open to everyone) to the court of the women on the east wall of the Temple building.

When the crippled beggar saw Peter and John, he naturally asked them for money. Peter and John both fixed their gaze on the man (as Jesus used to do). “I have neither gold nor silver to give you. But I have something else,” Peter told him. “In the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, walk!” And Peter raised him to his feet (a symbol of resurrection, new life, also seen in Gospel healings). Again, we note that the healing is done not by Peter himself but in the name of Jesus. Jesus himself only healed in his own name.

The man gingerly tries out his “new” legs and the next thing is seen bounding his way into the Temple, giving praise and thanks to God for his healing. The onlookers, many of whom were familiar with the beggar, were struck speechless by what they saw. The miracle has a dramatic impact: it symbolises the saving power of Christ and leads the beggar to enter the temple, where he hears Peter’s proclamation of salvation through Jesus.

The story clearly indicates that the power of Jesus has, as promised, been transferred to his followers. “The one who believes in me will do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (John 14:12). The crippled beggar can also be seen, as in similar gospel stories, as symbolical of each one of us who are permanently in need of God’s help and who stumble in our efforts to follow him. But, once healed, we immediately join him on his Way.
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Psalm 105
Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord.
Give thanks to the LORD, invoke his name;
make known among the nations his deeds.
Sing to him, sing his praise,
proclaim all his wondrous deeds.
Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord.
Glory in his holy name;
rejoice, O hearts that seek the LORD!
Look to the LORD in his strength;
seek to serve him constantly.
Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord.
You descendants of Abraham, his servants,
sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
He, the LORD, is our God;
throughout the earth his judgments prevail.
Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord.
He remembers forever his covenant
which he made binding
for a thousand generations.
Which he entered into with Abraham
and by his oath to Isaac.
Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord.
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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 the bread.
One of the great passages of the New Testament. It encapsulates in a little over twenty verses the whole Christian life. It is Easter Sunday as the passage opens. In Luke all the resurrection appearances take place in the vicinity of Jerusalem and on Easter Sunday.

It begins with two disciples on the road leaving Jerusalem. For Luke the focal point of Jesus’ mission is Jerusalem - it was the goal to which all Jesus’ public life was headed and from there the new community would bring his Message to the rest of the world.

They are on their way to a place called Emmaus, about 7 miles (11 km) from Jerusalem, whose exact location is not now known. It does not really matter and that is the point. They were on the “road” - they are pilgrims on the road of life. Jesus is the Way, the Road. The problem is that at this moment they are going in the wrong direction.

The Risen Jesus joins them as a fellow-traveller. “Something” prevents them from recognizing him. What was that “something”? Their presumption that he was dead? Was it their pre-conceived idea of what Jesus should look like?

Seeing their obvious despondency and disillusionment, he asks what they are talking about. With deliciously unconscious irony they say, “You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.”

Jesus plays them out a little more with a totally innocent-sounding, “What things?” He wants to hear their version of what happened. To them the death was the failure of Jesus’ mission. They refer to him as a “prophet” as if, after the debacle of his death, they could not see in Jesus the Messiah they had earlier acknowledged. “We were hoping that he would be the one to set Israel free.” Again the delicious irony of their own words is lost on them. For them, freedom meant liberation from the tyranny of foreign domination and perhaps the inauguration of the Kingdom of God as they understood it.

They are puzzled also by the stories of the women describing an empty tomb and angels - but there is still no sign of Jesus. More irony! They are addressing these very words to Jesus!

Jesus then gives them a lesson in reading the Scriptures and shows them that all that happened to Jesus, including his sufferings and death, far from being a tragedy was all foreordained. Luke is the only writer to speak clearly of a suffering Messiah. The idea of a suffering Messiah is not found as such in the Old Testament. Later, the Church will see a foreshadowing of the suffering Messiah in the texts on the Suffering Servant in Isaiah.

This story emphasises that all that happened to Jesus was the fulfilment of Old Testament promises and of Jewish hopes. All through Acts, Luke will argue that Christianity is the fulfilment of the hopes of Pharisaic Judaism and its logical development. In many respects, Matthew’s gospel has a similar theme.

As they reach their destination, Jesus makes as if to continue his journey. However, they extend their hospitality to the stranger. “I was a stranger and you took me in.” “It is nearly evening time and the day is almost over,” they say. So Jesus goes in to stay with them. Wonderful words. But it would not have happened if they had not opened their home to him.

As they sat down to the meal, Jesus, the visitor unexpectedly acting as host, took the bread, said the blessing over it, broke it and gave it to them. And in that very act they recognized him. This is the Eucharist where we recognize the presence of Jesus among us in the breaking of bread. Not just in the bread, but in the breaking and sharing of the bread and in those who share the broken bread.

Then Jesus disappears. But they are still basking in the afterglow. “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” In the light of all this experience, they turn around [conversion!] and go back along the road to Jerusalem from which they had been fleeing. There they discover their fellow-disciples excited that the Lord is risen and has appeared to Simon. And they tell their marvellous story and how “they had recognized him at the breaking of bread”.

All the ingredients of the Christian life are here:
- Running away from where Christ is to be found. We do it all the time.
- Meeting Jesus in the unexpected place or person or situation. How many times does this happen and we do not recognize him, or worse mistreat him?
- Finding the real meaning and identity of Jesus and his mission in having the Scriptures fully explained. Without the Scriptures we cannot claim to know Jesus. Yet how many Catholics go through life hardly ever opening a bible?
- Recognizing Jesus in the breaking of bread, in our celebration of the Eucharist. The breaking and sharing of the bread indicates the essentially community dimension of that celebration, making it a real comm-union with all present.
- The central experience of Scripture and Liturgy draws us to participate in the work of proclaiming the message of Christ and sharing our experience of it with others that they may also share it.
- The importance of hospitality and kindness to the stranger. “I was hungry… and you did - or did not feed…” Jesus is especially present and to be found and loved in the very least of my brothers and sisters.

The scene is also a model of the Eucharist:

Those walking together on the Road gather together and meet Jesus, first, in the Liturgy of the Word as the Scriptures are broken open and explained, and, second, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where what Jesus did for us through his suffering, death and resurrection is remembered with thanksgiving and the bread that is now his Body and the wine that is now his Blood, is shared among those who are the Members of that Body to strengthen their union and their commitment to continuing the work of Jesus.

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