Thursday, April 8, 2010

Thus It Is Written That The Christ Would Suffer, Die And Rise Again. You Are Witnesses Of This.

Thursday in the Octave of Easter
Reading I
Acts 3:11-26
As the crippled man who had been cured
clung to Peter and John,
all the people hurried in amazement toward them
in the portico called “Solomon’s Portico.”
When Peter saw this, he addressed the people,
“You children of Israel, why are you amazed at this,
and why do you look so intently at us
as if we had made him walk by our own power or piety?
The God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac,
and the God of Jacob,
the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus
whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence,
when he had decided to release him.
You denied the Holy and Righteous One
and asked that a murderer be released to you.
The author of life you put to death,
but God raised him from the dead;
of this we are witnesses.
And by faith in his name,
this man, whom you see and know,
his name has made strong,
and the faith that comes through it
has given him this perfect health,
in the presence of all of you.
Now I know, brothers and sisters,
that you acted out of ignorance,
just as your leaders did;
but God has thus brought to fulfillment
what he had announced beforehand
through the mouth of all the prophets,
that his Christ would suffer.
Repent, therefore, and be converted,
that your sins may be wiped away,
and that the Lord may grant you times of refreshment
and send you the Christ already appointed for you,
Jesus, whom heaven must receive
until the times of universal restoration
of which God spoke through the mouth
of his holy prophets from of old.
For Moses said:

A prophet like me
will the Lord, your God, raise up for you
from among your own kin;
to him you shall listen in all that he may say to you.
Everyone who does not listen to that prophet
will be cut off from the people.

“Moreover, all the prophets who spoke,
from Samuel and those afterwards,
also announced these days.
You are the children of the prophets
and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors
when he said to Abraham,
In your offspring all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
For you first, God raised up his servant
and sent him to bless you
by turning each of you from your evil ways.”
Immediately after the dramatic cure of the crippled beggar in the Temple, Peter takes the opportunity to address the crowds which had gathered round Peter, John and the healed beggar to explain the meaning of what they have just witnessed.

The scene takes place at “Solomon’s Portico”. This was a porch along the inner side of the wall enclosing the outer court, with rows of 27-foot high stone columns and a roof of cedar. So it was a roofed structure - somewhat similar to a Greek stoa. There was a common, but mistaken, belief that it dated back to Solomon’s time.

The message that Peter now gives the amazed crowd gathering around is similar to other addresses in the early Church: 1, an explanation of what is happening; 2, the Gospel of Jesus Christ - death, resurrection and glorification; 3, a call to repentance and change of life, symbolised by baptism.

First, Peter makes clear that the healing that has just taken place before their eyes is not by his own power or that of his companion, John. They are not to be gaped at as having supernatural powers. What has been done has been through the power of Jesus, who has been empowered by the God they all believe in, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

He is the one his hearers “handed over” to Pilate. Here again we have this “handing over”, a phrase which runs like a refrain through the Gospel. And him whom they handed over was the “Holy and Righteous One”, indicating Jesus’ special relationship to the Father and his sinlessness which are in stark contrast to the guilt of the murderous Barabbas.

Pilate was only too anxious to let Jesus go, being aware of his innocence, but he yielded to the demands of the crowd and yielded to their choice of a convicted murder, Barabbas. In a pregnant phrase - “the Author of life you put to death”. Barabbas had taken away life and is freed; Jesus will be the source of life by being condemned to death. As the sequence of the Easter Sunday Mass says: Dux vitae mortuus regnat vivus, which when literally translated means: “The Leader of life, having died, reigns alive.”

Peter and his companions are witnesses that Jesus was raised again. And it was in the name of this same Jesus that the poor beggar has been restored to health and mobility.

God has “glorified” his servant through his resurrection and ascension. The word “servant” is reminiscent of the songs of the suffering servant in Isaiah (and which we read early in Holy Week), especially Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Jesus himself spoke of being a servant when he washed his disciples’ feet and when he said that he had come to serve and not be served. All of this did not quite fit the image of the kind of Messiah the Jews were expecting.

And it is by faith in this very Jesus that the crippled beggar, a character well known to the crowds who came regularly to the Temple, has been “made strong” again. “Faith…has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.”

Peter excuses his hearers (as Jesus himself did), saying they did not fully realise at the time what they were doing. Yet, the sufferings of the Christ had long been foretold by the prophets. The early Christians saw the sufferings and death of Jesus clearly indicated in Old Testament prophecies. The Jews, however, did not expect a suffering and dying Messiah - quite the opposite. They saw in Isaiah’s Servant Songs their own suffering as a people.

Now it is not too late for them to ‘repent’ (there is that metanoia, metanoia again), that is, radically to change their ways and thus have their sin taken away. To ‘repent’ is not just to express sorrow; it involves re-establishing one’s close relationship with God and submitting totally to his Way. The nearest English equivalent is ‘con-version’, a ‘turning round’, which means, of course, a ‘turning towards’.

Jesus, after all, is the prophet who was foretold by Moses, who, Peter tells the crowd, had said: “The Lord God will raise up a prophet like myself for you, from among your own brothers; you must listen to whatever he tells you.” This is a loose quotation from Deuteronomy (18:15). In fact, at the time of Jesus, some Jews expected a unique prophet to come in fulfilment of this text. So early Christianity applied this tradition and text to Jesus and used them especially where Christian teaching seemed to diverge from traditional Judaism.

And indeed, says Peter, every prophet from Samuel down predicted what is now taking place before their eyes. Samuel was one of the earliest of the prophets and the one who anointed David, Jesus’ ancestor, as king. So the Jews in his audience are the heirs of the prophets’ messages, they are the heirs to the covenant first made way back with Abraham: “in your offspring all the families of the earth will be blessed”.

It is time now for the people to acknowledge this sacred covenant, made new through Jesus Christ, and they will do that by their accepting Jesus as their Saviour and abandoning their sinful ways to walk the Way of Jesus.

Exactly the same applies to us.
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Psalm 8
O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
O LORD, our Lord,
how glorious is your name over all the earth!
What is man that you should be mindful of him,
or the son of man that you should care for him?
O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
You have made him little less than the angels,
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him rule over the works of your hands,
putting all things under his feet.
O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
All sheep and oxen,
yes, and the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fishes of the sea,
and whatever swims the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
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Luke 24:35-48
The disciples of Jesus recounted
what had taken place along the way,
and how they had come to
recognize him in the breaking of bread.
While they were still speaking about this,
he stood in their midst and said to them,
“Peace be with you.”
But they were startled and terrified
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost
does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have.”
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous
for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish;
he took it and ate it in front of them.

He said to them,
“These are my words that I spoke to you
while I was still with you,
that everything written about me in the law of Moses
and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And he said to them,
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.”
We pick up from yesterday’s story of the disciples going to Emmaus. Back in Jerusalem they share their experience of the risen Jesus with their comrades who have also heard that Jesus has appeared to Simon Peter.

Suddenly Jesus himself appears in their midst. The fact that he comes suddenly, although the doors were locked, indicates that his presence is now of a different kind.

He wishes them peace. It is the ordinary Jewish greeting of ‘Shalom’ but one which has special meaning in this Easter context. Before his Passion Jesus had told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world do I give it to you…” (John 14:27). The peace of the Risen Jesus is fully of messianic blessings.

In spite of what they had heard, they are terrified and think they are seeing a ghost. “What are you afraid of?” Jesus asks them. He shows them his pierced hands and feet. The Greeks mocked at the idea of bodily resurrection but Luke emphasises the physical reality of Christ’s risen body, that is, the wholeness of the person of the risen Jesus.

He invites them to come and touch him. Ghosts do not have flesh and bones. As he shows them the wounds in his hands and feet their fear turns to a mixture of joy and utter astonishment. They can’t believe their eyes. Jesus has to ask them to give him something to eat. Ghosts don’t eat and Jesus is no ghost, he is no disembodied soul. There is also an emphasis that death is not an escape from the body but that the whole person goes into the next life.

Jesus then goes on to explain, as he did with the Emmaus disciples, how all that had happened to him was fully in harmony with and the fulfilment of the Law, the prophets and psalms. Mentioning the three constituent parts of the Old Testament Jesus indicates that the Messiah was foretold through the whole of the Hebrew scriptures.

And out of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection comes the mission to proclaim reconciliation with God through Jesus to the whole word. “You are witnesses to this.” It is their mission to carry on the establishment of the Kingdom throughout the world. Or, as it is put here, “that repentance, for the forgiveness of sin, would be preached in the [Messiah's] name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem”.

The Kingdom is being realised when people go through that process of radical conversion and change of life (‘repentance’ metanoia) which brings about a deep reconciliation of each one with God, with all those around them and with themselves, when all divisions fall away, when fear and hostility are replaced with a caring love for each other.

If we have not yet done so, let us become part of that great enterprise today.

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