FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Third Sunday of Easter (C)
Acts of the Apostles 5:27-32, 40b-41 | Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13 | Revelation 5:11-14 | John 21:1-14
The Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter encourages us to obey God rather than men, gather to worship Jesus because he is worthy of worship and keep trying to be a good person.
Fr. Matthew Chu Li-teh, S.J. was arrested and put in prison in Shanghai, China. His crime was preaching in his church. He immediately began to share Christ while he was in prison. He had a trial. It was a mockery of justice, and he was sentenced to 27 years. He did his 27 years, got out, and wrote these words: “Both prisoners and jailers asked many questions, and we had a more fruitful ministry there than we could have expected in church. God was better served by our presence in prison than if we had been free."
The apostles are brought before the Sanhedrin and ordered to stop speaking in Jesus' name. The Council’s overarching concern here is the failure of the apostles to submit to its authority. The Council is a legal entity with considerable power. If people refuse to obey its orders, they have reason to fear destabilization. Peter and the apostles are risking it all. They are defying the Sanhedrin and willing face the punishment that comes from proclaiming the Gospel. They know that they answer to a higher power — God himself. God ordained all human government for the good of man. In general, disobedience to human government is disobedience to God (Romans 13:1–2, 7). But there are exceptions: Any government that mocks God and contradict acceptable human values must be disobeyed (Acts 5:29; Daniel 3:18; Exodus 1:17, 20–21). Civil leaders do not have a free hand to rule as they please; they are to represent God and rule justly (Proverbs 8:15-16). The key is to always obey one's conscience. Where does your loyalty lie? Where is your allegiance?
I helped prepare the Easter Vigil liturgy for my home parish two weeks ago. I heard two comments after services. The first was from a young parishioner, who enthusiastically said, "This is one of the greatest worship experiences I've ever had! It was magical!" Moments later, another member approached me and snapped, "The organ absolutely ruined worship for me tonight! The sound kept cutting in and out!" Personallysaid it was hard to believe both people were in the same worship service. It's not about the music. It's not about the priest. It's not about the great friendships. It's about Jesus. Every moment, every effort, every breath. It's all about him. He is always worthy of praise.
Our second reading passage begins with the entirety of creation becoming a part of the cosmic chorus and is worshipping the Lamb, and the One who sits on the throne. This vision was addressed to a dispirited, disheartened church. The Easter exhilaration was past. There were persecutions by the emperor for some of these churches. Others were simply ignored by their pagan neighbors. Now, it was the long haul. You came here depressed and leave exhilarated. You wander in, plop down in the pew, only to sail forth with new wings by the end of the service. You come, anxious because of the silence in your life, and leave reassured by a clear word. But do we worship because our prayers are being answered, when the test results are the ones we’ve prayed for, or when we get that job we really needed? It’s mature faith that will worship in the midst of severe trials. Worship is not dependent on answers. Worship is powerful simply because Jesus is worthy of worship. It has nothing to do with what is going on around us. Jesus is always worthy of praise.
There’s a practice that originated many years ago in Japan called Kintsugi. In our experience, when we have a teacup with a broken handle or something similar, we might get out the super glue and try to repair it as seamlessly as possible, hoping it will look like it was never broken. But Kintsugi does the opposite. It acknowledges the brokenness, and actually ends up articulating and highlighting it. It repairs the broken and chipped pottery and ceramics by putting back together, but not in its original form. Instead the restoration process involves the use of pure gold to mend the divides and heal the fissures. The broken vessel is put back together in such a way that it is stronger and more beautiful than before it was broken.
Doesn’t it mean that we who are sinful can be part of Jesus’ mission? In the Gospel, Jesus appears to the disciples for a third time after his Resurrection and shares a meal with them. Then, Jesus asked Simon Peter if he loves him. Peter is a person who was far from perfect. He is the easily-distracted Peter who sinks like a stone; he is the slow learner Peter who needs even the simplest stories explained to him (Matthew 15:15-16); he is the tactless and impulsive Peter who blabs on about building three booths after the Transfiguration experience (Matthew 17:4); he is the unfaithful Peter who denied Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69-74); he is the hesitant Peter who struggles with whether he loves Jesus in the right way (John 21:15-17). Peter had a very "rocky" personality but Jesus accepts the imperfect love of Peter and gives him his mission. He was far from perfect but was transformed by his Master’s love, forgiveness and patience. The Church is built out of a whole bunch of rocky lives. We've had more than our share of bad, unwise, and corrupt Catholic Christians over the centuries. I am as angry as anyone over scandals in the Church. But I chose to stay because Jesus never gave up on Peter. He never left his Church. He promised that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against his Church that he loves so much. Should you stop going to the gym because you see fat people? By presenting the example of Peter, Jesus tells us that he also desires to accomplish in us what he did in Peter. He hides his treasures in jars of clay. He chooses flawed people like you and me with a bad past, a shaky present, and an uncertain future. Jesus repeatedly asks all of us, not just Peter, “Do you love me?” How might we exhibit this love? If we attempt to answer “yes,” then we must accept to serve others. “Feed my lambs and sheep” means we must care for each other, as a sign of Jesus’ love in us. It’s not always easy to follow Jesus. But the very act of trying to do so is what gives meaning and direction to our lives. <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum