3rd Sunday of Easter. B How Slow To Understand

 

To listen to today’s homily please select the audio file below:

Our gospel today is part of the account of the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances to his disciples in Jerusalem from the 24th chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke. Like the other easter gospels, Luke says that some women– Mary Magdalene is the first mentioned– went to the tomb of Jesus at daybreak on Easter Sunday to complete the burial anointings of his body, but they find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. They’re told by two men in dazzling garments that Jesus “’is not here, he has been raised…Remember what he said to you while he was still with you in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners to be crucified and rise on the third day.’ And they remembered his words.”

The women believe, Luke says, remembering what Jesus said, but when they bring the news to the apostles, to Peter and the others, they’re met with unbelief. The women believe, but the men don’t. Luke’s gospel is known for its appreciation of the faith of women, beginning with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Our gospel today continues Luke’s story of the two disciples to whom Jesus appeared on the way to Emmaus. The two disciples, unlike the women, are not ready to believe at all. In fact, they seem to dismiss the story from the women they’ve heard earlier. They’ve lost hope altogether. Jesus walks with them as a stranger and opens the scriptures for them. As they eat with him at table towards evening, they recognize him “in the breaking of the bread.” They return to Jerusalem to tell his other followers, but there they’re met with questions. There’s still unbelief.

Jesus himself comes into their midst, he shows them the wounds in his hands and side; he eats with them, he explains the scriptures to them. Then, they come to believe in him.

In Luke’s gospel, all the appearances of Jesus to his disciples happen in Jerusalem, not in Galilee. He speaks to them in the words of the scriptures. His voice is more important than his physical appearance, his words make their hearts burn as he speaks to them on the way. He shows them his wounds, the wounds in his hands and his side; he eats with them.

In Luke’s gospel, it all takes place in one day, from daybreak on Easter Sunday till evening when Luke describes Jesus ascending into heaven from the Mount of Olives in Bethany. Before he ascends into heaven, Jesus tells his disciples to bring the news of forgiveness of sins to the whole world, beginning in Jerusalem. They’re to stay in that city till the Spirit comes upon them, and then they’re to go out to all the nations.

If you want to know why we participate at Mass regularly, look carefully at the resurrection stories from the gospels. “How slow you are to understand,” Jesus says to his disciples in Luke’s gospel. We’re slow to understand and we need a lifetime to learn. How slow we are to understand what it means when we say that Jesus rose from the dead and lives forever. How slow we are to appreciate that we also share in his resurrection, that we are meant to live with him forever.

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we’re on the road of a life can be filled with disappointments and lost opportunities and failures. “We were hoping,” they say. Now they’ve lost hope. There’s nothing to hope for, no dream for the future.

And so, as Christians have done from earliest times, we gather at Mass Sunday by Sunday, on the day made holy by the Lord’s resurrection, on the day the Lord is especially present to his church, to be strengthened as we go on our earthly journey.

The Mass is not just a ritual, a custom, a quaint ceremony that’s survived the ages–something we can take or leave as it suits us. Jesus, our Risen Lord, stands in our midst here.

“’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.”

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Bread from Heaven

Jordan satellite

A Google satellite picture of Galilee reveals acres of lush green farmland around the Lake of Galilee, where Jesus once ministered. It’s a fertile land now; it was fertile then.

Herod the Great and his son Herod Antipas,  Galilee’s rulers then, created a network of roads and large cities like Tiberius, Sepphoris and Caesarea Maritima on the sea to export goods from Galilee to the rest of the world. Historians say the economy did well in Jesus’ time.

I mention this as perspective as we look at the miracle of Jesus feeding the crowd bread and some fish. We read this important reading from John’s gospel today and into next week. It wasn’t a relief effort Jesus was carrying out. He was making a divine claim.

“I am the bread of life”, source of all your blessing and everything that is, Jesus says. God the creator works through me. I don’t ask for bread as Moses asked for his people journeying from Egypt– “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus makes a divine claim in this miraculous sign that feeds a multitude.The crowd wants to make him king, (John 6, 15) but the kingship they look for was too small,  reducing Jesus to someone who helps you on your own terms, someone to go to when you run out of money or need a favor. It was dangerous besides; Herod Antipas and the Romans would crush that threat to their profitable kingdom immediately.

In a wonderful commentary on Jesus as the bread of life, the early theologian Origen says that Jesus calls himself bread because he is “nourishment of every kind,” not just nourishment of our bodies, but also nourishment of our minds and our souls. In asking “Give us this day our daily bread,” we’re asking for everything that nourishes our “true humanity, made in the image of God.”

Jesus is the bread that helps us “grow in the likeness of our creator.” (On Prayer 27,2) Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, we don’t know the nourishment we need, but God does. As “the true bread come down from heaven” God knows how to feed us.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

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Learning from the Apostles

Luke reminds us in the Acts of the Apostles, which we read during the Easter season,  that it took time for the disciples to understand what the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus meant. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus are not the only ones slow to understand. All of them were.

Peter, who preaches to the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost, certainly was. He speaks on Pentecost, forty days after the Passover on which Jesus died and rose from the dead. The days immediately following easter, he’s speechless; it took awhile for him to learn and be enlightened about what this great mystery meant.

It’s the same with us. Each year the Lord refreshes our faith in the resurrection, but it’s not done in a day. Like the disciples, we need time to take it in, and so we have an easter season of forty days.

The Acts of the Apostles also say the disciples were slow to understand the mission they’re to carry out. That’s because it’s God’s plan, not theirs, a plan that outruns human understanding. A new age had come, the age of the Holy Spirit, and they didn’t understand it.

The Holy Spirit moves beyond our understanding of our mission. “The mission is willed, initiated, impelled and guided by God through the Holy Spirit. God moves ahead of the other characters. At a human level, Luke shows how difficult it is for the church to keep up with God’s action, follow God’s initiative, understand the precedents being established.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles)

We see things with human eyes and understanding. “You judge things as human beings do, not as God does,” Jesus says to Peter elsewhere in the gospel.

Like the others, Peter is slow to understand God’s plan, even after Jesus rises from the dead. He doesn’t know why he must go to Caesaria Maritima to baptize the gentile Cornelius and his household. (Acts 10,1-49) It’s  completely unexpected. Only gradually will he embrace the mission to the gentiles and its implications. The other disciples are like him. God’s plan unfolds but they are hardly aware of it.

One thing they all learned quickly, though, as is evident in the Acts of the Apostles. Like Jesus, they would experience the mystery of his cross, and in that experience they would find wisdom.

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Welcoming the Night Visitor

cross 2
For the first three days of this second week of the Easter season we read Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus from chapter 3 of St. John’s gospel. Nicodemus belongs to the group whom John sees as drawn to Jesus, but either from fear or indecision keep their distance. Nicodemus comes to Jesus only at night, yet Jesus welcomes him at night.

In John’s gospel, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea– also a hesitant believer and a member of the Jewish ruling party– finally come forward at Jesus’ death. Joseph asks Pilate for his body; Nicodemus brings an abundance of spices for his burial. Now they bravely follow him, leaving the darkness for light.

“After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body.
Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds.
They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom.
Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried.
So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by. “
(John 19, 39-42)

John’s account sees Jesus’ death bathed in glory. The abundant amount of spices Nicodemus brings makes Jesus’ burial a kingly burial. The new tomb in a garden suggests already something wonderful is about to happen.

The Easter season sees the Risen Jesus as an abiding presence. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3,17)

“Everyone who believes in him…” Even reluctant, hesitant believers.

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The Easter Season: a School of Faith

Nicodemus

Easter in most Catholic parishes is a time for First Communions for children and deepening the faith of those recently baptized, but the readings for the seven weeks of the Easter season, particularly the gospel readings, seem mainly directed to veteran believers who have been around awhile– like you  and me. They warn us not to think we’ve made it nor  take our faith for granted. We need to renew our faith in the Risen Christ.

Thomas the Apostle, doubting Thomas, is probably the leading figure in the gospels for the Easter season. He’s not a lonely skeptic, an isolated dissenter, he represents the slowness of heart and mind, the recurrent skepticism that affects us all.

We heard from Thomas on Sunday. For the next few days of this week, he’s joined by Nicodemus, a teacher in Israel, fluent in religious matters, who comes to Jesus by night. He asks Jesus questions but he doesn’t seem to understand his answers. “How can this happen?”

Nicodemus reminds us that faith doesn’t depend on how sharp your mind is or how many books you read. Faith is God’s gift to us.

On Friday we’ll start to read from John’s gospel about Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish near the Sea of Galilee. There’s a lot of unbelief in the crowd that Jesus feeds, according to John. “Many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him,” John says. Besides those who radically reject Jesus as the bread come down from heaven, there are others who have little appreciation for this great sign. Commentators suspect there were troubles over the Eucharist and over Jesus in the churches John is writing for.

Most of the gospel readings for the last weeks of the Easter season are taken from the Farewell Discourse in John’s gospel. There too the disciples seem far from perfect. They’re fearful, they seem to understand Jesus so little. He calls them “little children.” They’re not too far removed from the children making their Communion this season.

We don’t have examples of perfect believers in the gospels of our Easter season. They’re imperfect believers, like us. But that’s a blessing, because they remind us that faith is something we have to pray for and struggle for. More importantly, they reveal the goodness of Jesus, who gave the wounds in his hands and his side to Thomas, who never dismissed Nicodemus to the night, who came to table with his disciples and fed them again, who called them “his own” and prayed that they would not fail.

We enter a school of faith in the Easter season where the Risen Christ speaks to us in signs like water, bread and wine, words that promise a world beyond ours. He is our Teacher and Lord.

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Ist Sunday of Easter: The Thomas in Us All

Audio of the homily below:

The yearly feast of Easter is a celebration, not of one day, but of fifty days, from Holy Saturday till the feast of Pentecost. We also celebrate Easter each Sunday of the year.

Why this extensive celebration? Because we’re so slow to realize what it means, and need reminding over and over.

Some things — like telling time or tying our shoes — we learn once, but the resurrection of Jesus is a mystery not learned at once. Never grasped completely, it unfolds as life unfolds, day by day.

That’s why Thomas, the apostle, whom we remember on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, is such an important figure. Far from being a lonely skeptic, an isolated dissenter, he represents the slowness of heart and mind, the recurrent skepticism, that affects us all.

Yet, Thomas is still a sign of hope. He reminds us that the Risen Jesus offers, even to the most unconvinced, the power to believe.

Lord Jesus,
the Thomas in us all
needs the wounds in your hands and side,
to call us to believe
you are our Lord and God.

Risen, present everywhere,
bless those who have not seen,
blind with doubts
and weakened faith.

Bless us, Lord,
from your wounded hands and side,
give us faith
to believe in you.

Spanish
El Tomás Dentro de Todos Nosotros
Juán 20, 19-31, Segundo Domingo de Pascua

La fiesta anual de Pascua florida es una celebración, no de un día, sino de cincuenta días, desde el Sábado Santo hasta la fiesta de Pentecostés. También celebramos el Domingo de Pascua cada domingo del año.

¿Por qué esta extensa celebración? Porque somos tan lentos en realizar lo que significa, y también necesitamos ser recordados una y otra vez.

Algunas cosas – como leer el reloj o amarrarnos los zapatos – las aprendemos una sola vez, pero la resurrección de Jesús es un misterio que no se aprende de una vez. Nunca comprendido completamente, se revela gradualmente mientras la vida se despliega día por día.

Por eso es que Tomás, el apóstol a quien recordamos el Segundo Domingo de Pascua, es una figura tan importante. Lejos de ser un escéptico solitario, un disidente aislado, él representa la lentitud de corazón y mente, el esceptisismo recurrente, que nos afecta a todos.

Sin embargo, Tomás sigue siendo un signo de esperanza. Él nos recuerda que el Jesús Resucitado nos ofrece hasta el menos convencido de nosotros, el poder de creer.

Señor Jesús, el Tomás en todos nosotros
necesita las heridas de tu costado y manos,
llamándonos a creer que eres nuestro Señor y Dios.
Resucitado, presente en todas partes,
bendice a los que no han visto,
ciegos con dudas y fé debilitada.
Bendícenos Señor; a través de tus heridas manos y costado,
danos fé para creer en Tí.

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It’s the Lord!

sinful man
John 21, 1-18

I think I know where this gospel took place. It’s called Tabgha, a quiet, wooded area on the Lake of Galilee just south of the ancient town of Capernaum. It’s easy walking distance from the town that was the center of Jesus’ ministry.

The name Tabgha comes from the seven springs of water flowing into the lake there. When I visited some years ago, flocks of birds were singing in the trees and drinking from the streams of water.

For centuries fishermen must have pulled in here to get fresh water from the springs, and perhaps fry some fish over a fire on the beach. It’s a likely place where Jesus would come to pray. Tradition, witnessed by two centuries-old churches on the site, says he met his disciples here in this beautiful place after his resurrection.

DSC00042

According to John’s gospel, Peter and other disciples of Jesus came to Galilee after the Lord’s death and resurrection and went fishing. Through the night they caught nothing, but at dawn they heard a call from the shore to cast their nets out again.
“… Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.” They caught of large catch of 153 fish. Jesus then called from the shore to come eat some fish at a fire he had started and he gave them bread and some fish to eat and revealed himself to them.

Peter has a leading role in this story. He jumped into the water to get to the shore after he’s told Jesus was there. Then after they have eaten, Jesus takes him aside and three times asks the disciple who denied him three times, “Do you love me?”

Three times the apostle who cursed and swore in the courtyard of the High Priest that he did not even know Jesus answers “Yes, I do. I love you.” And Jesus tells him “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.”

A great example of forgiveness is found here. No scolding words or recriminations. No “I told you so.” No warning, “You do that again and …” No demotion, no putting on parole. Rather, Jesus gives Peter new responsibility. “Feed my lambs” as I do. A beautiful picture of what God’s mercy is.

Instead of punishing him, God calls Peter to new things. The mercy of God always calls us to something new, some new life.

Tabgha, along the Lake of Galilee where Jesus met his disciples, is a wonderful place to visit. My guess is that this spot was where Jesus often prayed during his days in Capernaum and where he often called his disciples to rest awhile. Here he communed with God his Father and showed his love for others; here he prayed and forgave. His memory lingers at this lovely place besides the Sea of Galilee.

We learn here that prayer and forgiveness go together, as Jesus taught. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Today’s gospel urges us to pray and learn to forgive as Jesus did. Maybe there’s someone who has hurt us, maybe we have an unforgiving attitude towards some situation we’re facing now. A job we don’t like, a home situation we’re angry about, something in society that upsets us.

Pray and forgive.

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