Jesus’ Divine gift

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  • April 16, 2009
Third Sunday of Easter (Year B) April 26 (Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48)

Peter might be forgiven a little smugness as he narrates the story of the passion and death of Jesus to some of those responsible. To be accused of rejecting the Holy and Righteous One and killing the Author of life is no small thing and the words must have hit home with a number of his audience.

And there was no denying it — Peter clobbers them with the definitive proof — God affirmed that Jesus was all of these things by raising Him from the dead. No human machinations could thwart God’s plans. Many of those listening were absolutely stricken for there is not much else to say except to ask if there is any way out. And there is: echoing the words of Jesus on the cross in the Gospel of Luke (same author as Acts), Peter recognizes that for the most part it was a massive case of ignorance. They have a second chance — repent and the slate is wiped clean. And as Acts tells us elsewhere many did just that.

Most evil deeds are committed in ignorance. We think we know and understand what we are doing but we do not. A distorted perception of reality and questionable values plus a dash of ego and fear are all the ingredients for disaster. One can see these factors at work in the many acts of violence of our own time — suicide bombings being a prime example — as well as crimes committed in the name of noble ideals and political expediency. This does not in any way excuse the perpetrators but it does make us pause before we demonize them or write them off as irredeemably evil. Many people change after a significant experience or insight and who would be a better example of that than Saul of Tarsus. Touching hearts and minds are far more effective than the condemning and name-calling that characterize most moral crusades. It is never too late to turn to God and God never gives up on us. 

Many claim to know God and to even speak with and for God. How are we to determine if this is accurate? How do we separate the frauds — intentional or not — from the real thing? For John truth is only truth when it is in harmony with God’s will and when it is lived out. Truth, love and obedience to the divine will cannot be separated. The litmus test to determine if one really knows God or not is whether they are walking in God’s ways. And John makes it very clear: “love” and “God’s commandments” mean basically the same thing. One can have impeccable theology and be dead wrong in the spiritual sense.

Scarcely had the two disciples from Emmaus finished relating the story of their encounter with Jesus than they were in for a second surprise. Jesus Himself made an appearance in the upper room before the assembled disciples. But He had His work cut out for Him. First, He had to convince them that He was not a ghost so He eats a meal. Showing His wounds was proof that He was the same Jesus they saw die on the cross. But then He dealt with the most difficult task — explaining His suffering and death. He grappled with the biggest stumbling block in the early Christian movement — how could the Messiah, if Jesus were indeed the Messiah, suffer and die? This was certainly not part of the expectation.

As He had done on the road to Emmaus, Jesus again unlocked the inner meaning of various Old Testament passages. According to the text these passages were speaking of Jesus — especially His suffering and death. This gives us an insight into the way Christians of the late first century were reading the Old Testament through the lenses of their Easter faith. They were attempting to make theological sense out of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. His death was not an accident or fluke but part of the divine plan and it was charged with meaning for all time and for all humanity.

All of this culminated in the divine gift that the followers were charged to proclaim to the entire world: a fresh start, a second chance — repentance and the forgiveness of sins for all peoples and nations. That message still stirs hope and gives inspiration. 

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