To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:
7th Sunday Easter B
Some early sources describe the gospels as “ memoirs of the apostles.” The gospels are based on the memories of those who witnessed what Jesus said and did in the years they were with him, namely from when he was baptized by John in the Jordan River until the time of his death and resurrection. Their memories reveal their experience of Jesus.
Those memories were redacted later and given a form by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and their communities, and in that final form come to us. But the gospels are still substantially the memories of the apostles and those who first followed Jesus.
That’s good to keep in mind when we’re listening to the gospels – we have in them the memories of the apostles and those who were with Jesus. It helps us understand the writings of the New Testament better and, more importantly, it helps us to know and experience the One that they came to know and experience.
It looks like we have in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles a memory of Peter about the choice of a replacement for Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, after the Lord’s resurrection. As Luke presents the story, Peter stands before a hundred or so followers of Jesus and quotes from the psalms, indicating that Judas has to be replaced. In Luke’s presentation, to tell you the truth, Peter sounds to me somewhat cold and official, like a judge in a court.
But was he really so? What painful, hopeful memories he must have had when he spoke the name Judas“the one who guided those who arrested Jesus?” How could be not remember his own part that night when he and the rest of the disciples left him and fled in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet, here they are, rebuilding their number again, not from their own power and goodness, but through the mercy and goodness of God, calling them anew to a mission far beyond what they could hope for or deserve.
The way Judas’ successor is chosen is interesting too. He has to be “someone who was with us when we were with Jesus, from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us: he should be named as witness to his resurrection,” Peter says. Two are nominated, Joseph (called Barsabbas, also Justus) and Matthias. But instead of the group talking together, deliberating, voting about these choices, they do it by casting lots, flipping a coin. This is God’s choice, not theirs.
It seems to me if we take this passage as a memory of Peter, we see a changed man and a changed disciples. Peter, whom Jesus said earlier in the gospels looked at things as human beings do and not as God does, Peter whom Jesus called “Satan” at one point, who seems so sure of himself through most of the time he’s with Jesus, Peter recognizes that God is at work and defers to God’s plan and God’s will instead of his own.
Before they cast lots, they pray: “ Lord, you read the human heart. Tell us which of these two you choose for this apostolic ministry, replacing Judas, who deserted and went the way he was destined to go.” Then they drew lots between the two men. The choice fell on Matthias, who was added to the eleven apostles.”
Going beyond the formality of this reading from the Acts of the Apostles, can’t we see a disciple transformed? I have a favorite picture of Peter, a medieval portrait that I saw years ago in the Cloisters in New York City. He’s not the strong, assured figure you often see portrayed by artists. This is Peter softened by experience, by failure and by the mercy and kindness of God. He’s not a know-it –all. He knows that God’s ways are mysterious and prays to know and do God’s will.
And isn’t that what we all hope for–to learn in life that God is merciful and kind and to trust and hope in him.
Suppose Peter someday came to the Mass we were celebrating and we asked what he remembered that night when he and the others ate with Jesus before he was arrested and put to death.
I think he would say something like this: to us, “That night when we sat down to eat with him, Jesus told us one of us was going to betray him. We all asked who it was. No one of us could believe it. I said I would die rather than deny him. But I did deny him. Then he took bread and wine and said this is my body, this is my blood and he gave them to us to eat. He prayed for us and said he loved us and he would see us again.
If you read the Last Supper account from the Gospel of Mark, which they says depends on the memories of Peter, you read something very much like that.