Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

April 30, 2006

St. Agnes, Cincinnati

(Based on Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48)

“Then he opened their minds to the understanding of the Scriptures.”

It seems almost impossible to turn on the TV or open the newspaper these days without hearing some juicy new twist on the story of Jesus and the early church.

If we are to take it all seriously, we’re now supposed to believe:

1) Judas didn’t really betray Jesus, he was really the good guy in the Passion story; Jesus commissioned him to arrange for his arrest and conviction. He was Jesus’ chosen messenger.

2) Mary Magdalen was not only one of the most important disciples of Jesus – she was that – but she turned out later to be his wife and the mother of his children. Hey, come on, it’s in the DaVinci Code, isn’t it? It must be true! (And if you have a few thousand dollars to give me I can take you on a tour to see where all the clues were hidden – including the house Jesus and Magdalen later lived in, with the deck out on the back overlooking the Sea of Galilee, with their barbeque grill. Aren’t you just waiting to read in the National Inquirer that one of her descendants lives in Bond Hill and has 13 fingers on her left hand and can see through walls?)

3) And then, according to the neoconservative politicians, the most important reality in the Scriptures is – the Rapture!!! It’s coming the day after tomorrow, when all the good guys will be whooshed up to heaven instantly. It’s all going to end real soon so why worry about justice for the poor and stuff like that? I mean, it’s in those millions of books in the Left Behind series and they can’t be wrong, can they?

Isn’t it ironic? America is supposed to be so secularized and godless, and our media are absolutely obsessed with knowing ‘what really happened’ in the Jesus story.

A lot of good people are all aflutter. Faith in Jesus is distorted into all sorts of titillating and sensational stuff, and they lack any rootedness in the Christian tradition to help them sift through it.

So it’s a blessing that we have this Easter season with its special graces. In both the major readings of today’s liturgy we are taught by authoritative teachers just how to understand the word of our God in the Scriptures.

In the story in Acts, Peter and John have just used the name and power of Jesus to heal a crippled beggar outside the Temple. Crowds of people have witnessed the scene and they become all agog over these two men. As they did on other occasions in the Acts, they wanted to make them into gods. More sensation!

Peter has to re-direct their sense of what has really happened. Hey, guys, we’re not gods; we’re human just like you. It is God’s power that has healed this man. So how does he get them to think it through? He turns to their story, the story of their people, in the Scriptures. He shows them what it all meant: God had a plan to send a Messiah to heal the people and save them from themselves. But you put him to death. (He doesn’t mince words.) But his life, even in death, could not be extinguished. You put to death the One who is the Author of life, but God’s words and God’s commitment to the covenant – to us – could not be thwarted even by their rejection and Jesus’ death.

And then in Luke’s Gospel we have the risen Jesus himself teaching them what it’s all about.

Luke is a masterful writer. More than any of the other evangelists he draws us into the emotions the disciples are experiencing. First it’s panic and fright. This is ghost stuff; it’s scary, spooky. Then Jesus invites them to touch his flesh; he asks for something to eat. It’s all so down-to-earth: a piece of cooked fish. And now they are dumbstruck. They’re still incredulous, unable to believe, but now it’s for sheer joy at the realization that he is still with them.

And “he opened their minds to the understanding of the Scriptures.”

This is one of the graces, the gifts of the Easter event: outpouring of the Spirit. The one Jesus had called the Spirit “of truth” – “who will reveal to you all that I have told you.” What an incredible religion class, to be taught by the Lord!

So what’s it all about, this Judas and Magdalen and rapture stuff?

It’s about what it’s always been about:

1) God loves us irrevocably, even in the face of our sin and rebelliousness.

2) God is the Faithful One: faithful to the word, faithful to the promise, faithful to the Covenant.

3) God’s fidelity is revealed in one who is both Son and totally humanlike you and me

4) That Son has to pass through suffering and death in order to rise to the fullness of life and enter into an incredible intimacy with us by pouring his very own Spirit into our hearts.

5) And through the gift of the Spirit we are empowered to love as he loved, to care as he cared, to die to ourselves as he died to himself, in service to our neighbors.

In the Eucharist we touch the same risen body he showed them in the upper room. The difference is that there he was asking them for something to eat, whereas here, instead, he feeds us. With the Way. With the Truth. With the Life. Now! While we live our everyday lives trying to build our families and our communities and our cities and our nation – and our world. Not in some fantastic escapist “rapture.”

So what are we to do with Judas? Suppose we just leave him to God’s mercy.

And Mary Magdalen? Maybe we can take our lead from Pope John Paul II, who called her “the apostle to the apostles.” Isn’t that enough?