1st Reading: The Acts of the Apostles: 2: 14a, 36-41
Peter’s listeners were “cut to the heart”. This is what repentance or conversion is all about. Peter’s message was urgent. Repentance was not understood just as the turning away from a laundry list of sins. For Peter’s crowd it meant a radical reassessment of who Jesus really was-what his significance was (W&W, Birmingham, p. 300). Who is Jesus to you? Right now?
Reflect on this Arthurian tale:
In one of his quests Percival enters the castle of the Fisher King who has been wounded in the groin in a hunting accident, representing a loss of his generative powers. His wound will not heal and as a result, his kingdom becomes a wasteland. There is drought, crops will not grow, pestilence and disease are everywhere, all of which is symbolic of a disease of the soul. The wasteland comes about when one acts not out of authenticity, but out of the power of one’s position. Joseph Campbell calls this wasteland the inauthentic life, a state of being which is barren of the truth of who you are. In ancient cultures, the vitality of the kingdom was dependant on the vitality of the king. Percival, who had always acted spontaneously out of his own nature, for the first time remembers that a knight is not supposed to speak to a king until spoken to first, and even though he is moved to do so, does not ask, “What ails you?” the words that would have healed the king. He is escorted from the castle and when he turns to look back, it is gone. He says, “Alas, what is God? Were He great, He would not have heaped undeserved disgrace on us both. I was in his service, expecting His grace. But I now renounce Him and His service. If He hates me, I shall bear that. Good friend, when your own time comes for battle, let a woman be your shield, (CM, 452). You are not supposed to get a second chance. Percival realizes his mistake and spends many years searching for the castle, during which time he falls in love. Now in this new kind of relationship to a woman, Percival again finds the castle, asks of the Fisher King, “What ails you?” and thus heals the king and restores the land. When Parzival asks ‘what ails you?’ he has experienced the other in himself. The reality is that compassion is in humanity, and is our prime expression.
What cuts to Percival’s heart? What results from his conversion? His own change of heart affects the whole kingdom. Note the parallels in this story to the scripture passage. Jesus is our heart of compassion within us.
2nd Reading: I Peter 20 – 25
Remember that Jesus’ wounds became his identification marks after resurrection. As ‘wounded healers’, we can let the Spirit of Jesus help us to bring life out of the good and the bad times of our lives. This letter is written to a people –many of whom were slaves — who were being persecuted for their faith under the Roman Emperor Domitian at the end of the first century. Their endurance in the face of suffering helped the church to survive even to this day. May we trust in this same Spirit when we face difficulties.
(Celebration, April 2005). How do you think we are ‘healed’ by the wounds of Christ?
“Happy are they who have reached the end of the road we seek to tread, who are astonished to discover the by no means self-evident truth that grace is costly just because it is the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Happy are the simple followers of Jesus Christ who have been overcome by his grace, and are able to sing the praises of the all-sufficient grace of Christ with humbleness of heart. Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in the world. Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship. For them the word grace has proved a fount of mercy,” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 60).
The Gospel: John 10: 1-10
Three important Hebrew Scripture readings serve as background for this passage:
Ezekiel 34+: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel . . . who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep? . . . I am coming against these shepherds . . . I will save my sheep . . . I myself will look after and tend my sheep . . . The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal [but the sleek and strong I will destroy], shepherding them rightly.
Jeremiah 23+: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter . . . I myself will gather the remnant of my flock . . . and bring them back to their meadow . . . so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none will be missing, says the Lord.
Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd” . . .
Some ideas and facts concerning shepherds:
In Palestine sheep were kept mostly for their wool – not for their meat only. The sheep were often with the shepherd for many years; they were called by descriptive ‘pet’ names. A shepherd had to be a vigilant and fearless guide for his sheep. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol.II, p.56)
In this land of winding paths and rock cliffs with thin pastures surrounded by desert and wild animals, an alert and wise shepherd was indispensable to the survival of the sheep. At the end of the day, the shepherd would hold out his rod, close to the ground, having each sheep pass under it as the shepherd would examine it to see if it needed any care. Wounded ones would be ‘cleaned’ and anointed with oil; thirsty ones would be given water. When all had been cared for, the shepherd would lie down and sleep across the entrance to the sheepfold. He was the safe ‘gate’ by which the sheep could come and go. In this way, the shepherd became the source of life and goodness [salvation]. The gate did not ‘confine’ the sheep, but provided a “spaciousness of security, peace, and protection.”
In the morning when it was time to take the sheep to pasture, the shepherds would call to their sheep by a special sound or whistle, laugh or strange type of noise or song. Each sheep recognized the voice of their own shepherd. They followed that voice for it meant food, protection, warmth, healing and safety. This sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed shepherd was the source of life and protection, strength and guidance for the sheep. (Celebration, April 1999 & 2005, as well as John Pilch, http://liturgy.slu.edu/4EasterA041308/theword_cultural.html).
Sheep are naturally very vulnerable animals. If one gets lost, it will fall to the ground and ‘bleat’ loudly until the shepherd finds it. We can learn a lot from sheep!(The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, John Pilch, p.77)
The image of being sheep can make us a bit uncomfortable – it can imply we are just part of a ‘flock’ – sort of stupid and dependent. It seems to imply that we need to be ‘blindly’ obedient. But remember that obedience first means to listen. When we listen to our Shepherd Jesus, we find insight, truth, vision, understanding. He accompanies us through dark valleys and shows where to find life and real safety. (Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, p.131)
In today’s world we encounter many gates. There are gated communities, gates of entry into theaters and sporting events, toll gates. Each gate represents both a dividing line and a means of entry. How does this speak to your spirituality?
In John’s gospel, there is a series of solemn statements that identifies aspects of Jesus’ identity. These are called the “I am” statements, such as “I am . . . the bread of life (6:48); the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14), the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), the light of the world (8:12; 9:5), the resurrection and the life (11:25). In this week’s gospel, Jesus asserts, “I am the gate” (10:7, 9). This gate opens up to abundant life . . .
Pray about which image seems most meaningful to you.
(“Working with the Word” http://liturgy.slu.edu/4EasterA041308/theword_working.html)
Going through the gate instead of hopping the fence…reminds us that there is no easy way out of our difficult times. We can’t skip steps. We have to go THROUGH, and a pasture will await us there. From Riding the Dragon (R. Wicks, p. 150, quoting The Alchemist by P. Coelho), “Once you get into the desert, there’s no going back,” said the camel driver. “And when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about moving forward. The rest is up to Allah, including the danger.”
1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 2: 14, 22-23
This really takes place after Pentecost in ‘Luke’s story’. This is an example of typical early Christian preaching. There are 4 parts to the early ‘kerygma’ or ‘creed’:
1. Jesus was a man sent by God.
2. Jesus was a man empowered by God to overcome evil.
3. Jesus was a man who was betrayed, who suffered and died.
4. Jesus was then raised and vindicated by God.
This ‘sermon’ is given here by Peter, now transformed by the Spirit of Risen Christ. Peter who slept in the garden and then denied Jesus in fear now proclaims the same Jesus with joy and power. Here is the power of Jesus’ Resurrection! Peter challenges all of us to be so transformed.
The early Christians turned to their Scriptures, just as we do, to help them understand the happenings in their lives. Here Peter uses Psalm 16, and so it was chosen to be the psalm for this Sunday (our closing prayer). Notice how it is about Jesus – and about us.
It was impossible for Jesus to be held in captivity by death; this is what Peter declares to his listeners. Christ could not be held by death because in his cross he had overcome it. Death – theologically, at least – is our ultimate separation from God the source of life. Jesus was not held by death because of some abstract quality of divinity; it was his complete obedience to the will of God (trusting, listening obedience) that kept him more convinced always of God’s love than the evil and suffering around him. It was not some magic act due to his divine powers. It was this trust and obedience that overcame human alienation and separation from God (what is meant by sin and death). (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu ) Do you experience this in your life? Name what may be holding you down that is not life-giving…raise it up to Jesus and trust that He will be with you in deciding what to do about it.
2nd Reading – 1 Peter 1: 17-21
The great Easter truth is not that we live newly after death . . .But that we are to be new, here and now, by the power of the resurrection; not so much that we are to live forever, as that we are to live nobly now because we are to live forever. (Phillip Brooks)
In this passage we have to be careful not to take the language of ‘ransom’ and ‘blood’ too literally. The language is somewhat crude and cultic, but it is meant to speak of the liberation that we as Christians have as we come to understand the meaning and consequence of Jesus’ death. His blood speaks of Jesus’ total surrender and trust to his Father’s will and life. In this trust Jesus found the way through death to eternal life with his Father and our God. There is fear here on this side of the grave. But, like Jesus, let us surround our fears with trust in the God who loves us and has ultimate power over death. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
From Richard Rohr: “We can’t see love, but we can see what happens to someone who is loved – the power and gentleness of those who let themselves be loved by Jesus, endless life, welling up within . . . “
From Carl Sagan: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”
The Gospel – Luke 24: 13 – 35
Each time we gather for Eucharist we experience this Emmaus story. It is a ‘pattern’ for Eucharist and for conversion. We share the story of Jesus. We invite the stranger, invoke a blessing, and share a meal. In this breaking of the bread our eyes are opened; our hearts come alive with a new fire. Here on this side of the grave and eternity, we can know Jesus; we can experience his presence. Our hearts can burn with the insight and encounter that comes to us from our Lord, a reality we can trust. (Celebration, April, 2005)
These two disciples are leaving their faith community. They do not even place much credence in the ‘women’s testimony’ concerning the empty tomb. In fact, it seems that it is this very testimony that motivates them to leave. They are hitting the road, deep in confusion. Yet, Jesus joins them. This story is sort of a metaphor about how God deals with someone who has gone away; perhaps it is also an image of how we are to deal with each other in our unbelief. It is a story of paradoxes – of faith and crisis, of distance and closeness, of seeing and blindness, of light and darkness. Sometimes it is only as we look back – when we ponder and reflect – that we realize that God’s presence and closeness was real. And so, present with him at the table, they finally recognize the gift of the presence that was there all along, walking away, talking away, wondering why, telling their woe, hearing his story once again. Maybe their sense of loss, their longing for hope, was hope. Maybe even their desire to believe was believing — even their longing to love was love. Maybe the God-we-find-in-Jesus can see all the way through to our broken hearts and clouded minds. It happened back then on the road – it can and will happen to us also on our road of life if we but welcome his presence. (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Engaged” http://litrugy.slu.edu )
Notice that at the moment of ‘open-eyed’ recognition of Jesus, he vanishes from their sight. Luke’s point is clear: from that time on, the disciples would meet Jesus, know him, be fed and taught by him at every Eucharistic encounter. And in a sense their ‘vision’ is so improved that they find it no problem to journey back to Jerusalem at night – full of joy and energy. (Celebration, April 2005)
From Henri Nouwen in his book With Burning Hearts, pp. 95- 97:
For communion with Jesus means becoming like him . . . And Communion creates community. Christ, living in them, brought them together in a new way. The Spirit of the risen Christ, which entered them through the eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, not only helped them recognize Christ himself but also each other . . . the God living in us helps us recognize the God in our fellow humans . . . this new body is fashioned by the Spirit of love. It manifests itself in very concrete ways: in forgiveness, reconciliation, mutual support, outreach to people in need,
solidarity with all who suffer . . .
There is a burning of our hearts when we know something is deeply true. Can you recall those moments of burning in your heart?
1st Half of Gospel for Good Friday John 18
The Jesus of John’s passion is much more challenging to us. In this gospel Jesus is the one in charge; he chooses his destiny. It almost seems like he is arranging his own death. In John Jesus carries the cross himself-this is his destiny and he chooses to walk to it. Even on the cross, Jesus is in charge, attending to unexpected details-he places his mother and his beloved disciple into each other’s care. Finally, it is Jesus who announces “It is finished.”
Why is it “Good” Friday? Jesus showed us that suffering and death is not all there is. Good Friday is more than a step to resurrection; it is a day on which we celebrate Jesus’ obedience, his kingship, the everlasting establishment of his reign, his side being opened and himself being poured out so that we can be washed in his very blood and water. The real scandal of the cross isn’t suffering and death; the real scandal of the cross is that God is victorious in Christ’s obedience. Death has no power over God (Living Liturgy, 2004, p. 104).
When confronted with Christ’s suffering, it challenges us to understand why there is suffering. There is suffering because…there just is. Suffering does not earn our way to heaven. Suffering does allow us to be transformed right now. “…God’s compassionate love enters the pain of the world to transform it from within, “ (Johnson, She Who Is, p. 270). We can allow the suffering to help us become better people, and that can be its “reward”. Jesus was trying to explain how it was necessary for him to die so that they may be saved. “…pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain, “ (Nouwen, Here and Now, p. 47). There is a greater good at stake.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Only a suffering God can help.” He wrote those words when in a Nazi prison. He was hanged not long afterward because he spoke out in favor of the Jewish people. Bonhoeffer wrote, “…to be in this furious storm even to exhaustion, even to vexation, even to the call of martyrdom for the Word of Christ, so that there will be peace, so that there will be love, so that there will be salvation, and so that he is our peace and that God is a God of peace, “ (Kelly & Nelson, p. 214). Bonhoeffer knew that suffering could lead to peace; no one wants suffering, but there can be meaning in it.
Jurgen Moltmann says, “While his Son is dying on the cross, God the Father suffers too, but not in the same way. The Father suffers the loss of his Son, experiencing infinite grief. There is total separation between them; they are lost to each other. At the same time, however, they have never been so close. They are united in a deep community of will, each willing to do this for love of the world. As a result, the Holy Spirit who is love, the Spirit of their mutual love, flows out into the broken, sinful world, “ (Johnson, Quest…), p. 61). God was with Jesus the whole time, and suffered with him. What is your feeling or insight about Jesus’ suffering and death? What “death” have I experienced in my life – death of a loved one, an abrupt and painful change, having to let go of someone or something I cherished?
Commentary from The Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay (p. 220-231):
The Arrest in the Garden
All the Passover lambs were killed in the temple, and the blood of the lambs was poured on the altar as an offering to God (estimated 256,000!) Imagine what the Temple courts would have looked like with all of that blood. From the altar, a channel went down to the brook Kedron to drain the blood of the lambs. When Jesus crossed, the brook would have still been red with the blood. This must have made him think of his own sacrifice. As they continued walking, they came to the Mount of Olives where the Garden of Gethsemane (meaning oil-press…consider the imagery!) was located. It would have been a private garden of a wealthy landowner. Jesus must have been given a key to it to visit it frequently.
The officers would be Temple police, and the text suggests there was quite a number of them, almost an army. Imagine that many needed for an unarmed Galilean carpenter?! Why do you think they sent so many?
See how brave Jesus is? He doesn’t hide behind the trees but comes right out and asks who the soldiers are looking for. They seem dumbfounded that it is him because he is so forthcoming. He seems stronger than they are. Peter is brave too, to cut the ear of the slave despite the army opposing him.
Jesus Before Annas
The High priest was the arch-collaborator of the Romans. The family of Annas was immensely rich and one-by-one they had intrigued and bribed their way into office, while Annas remained the power behind it all. Even the way in which Annas made his money was most probably disgraceful. Because sacrifices made in the temple needed to be perfect, only those sold in the temple would be accepted as such (which of course was controlled by Annas and cost significantly more than those outside of it). These are the same moneychangers Jesus kicked out of the temple. Now we see why Annas wanted to see Jesus himself. Jesus had hit him where it hurt-his pocket!
Maimonides, a great Jewish medieval scholar, says, “Our true law does not inflict the penalty of death upon a sinner by his own confession.” Annas violated the principles of Jewish justice when he questioned Jesus. It is precisely of this that Jesus was only reminding him. But the writing was on the wall. Jesus never had any hope for justice.
The Hero and the Coward
It is a mystery who the disciple is that goes into the courtyard with Jesus and knows the high priest somehow. Note that he and Peter are the only diciples that stay; the rest run away. Maybe Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathaea. Maybe John himself, whose father most likely sold salt fish to the high priest and then he delivered it. By not knowing for sure, it does allow us as readers to enter into the story.
It is interesting that a cock crowed because cocks weren’t allowed in Jerusalem (although who knows if that rule was followed). How can you know when a cock will crow anyway? But the Romans had a practice of changing the guards every 3 hours at night (6pm-9pm, 9pm-12am, 12am-3am, 3am-6am). There would be a trumpet call at the change (gallicinium in Latin or alektorophōnia in Greek), which both mean cockcrow. Maybe this is what Jesus meant and Peter remembered.
Peter loved Jesus. It was the real Peter that professed his loyalty in the upper room, drew his sword in the garden and followed Jesus into the courtyard. It was not the real Peter who cracked beneath the tension and denied the Lord. And that is just what Jesus could see. Jesus sees our true self. He loves us in spite of what we do because he loves us, not for what we are, but what we have it in us to be.
Jesus and Pilate
The Romans had allowed a good deal of self-government, but they did not have the right of the sword (death penalty). “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hands of all the people,” (Deuteronomy 17:7) is the word of Jesus that is fulfilled. Jesus had to die a Roman death, because he had to be lifted up. If the Jews had been able to kill him themselves, it would have been a stoning (Leviticus 24:16).
It is clear why Pilate acted as he did. The Jews blackmailed him into crucifying Jesus. He had screwed up once before and been reported to Caesar. The Jews threatened to tell Caesar that he wouldn’t help them. If he gets reported again, he may lose his job and power. He is looking out for himself. He crucified Jesus in order to keep his job. But let’s look at his decision-making more closely:
- He tries to put the responsibility on the Jews: No one can deal with Jesus for us; we must deal with him ourselves.
- He tries to escape being involved by releasing a prisoner: There is no escape from a personal decision in regard to Jesus; we must ourselves decide if we accept or reject him…
We will take up the rest next week!
One might wonder what was on Jesus’ mind, on God’s mind, when he picked these two to be the examples of what a disciple should be. You and I would probably agree that Peter and Paul were probably two of the worst examples of disciples what a disciple should be. Peter was a traitor, he denied Jesus three times, and Paul a persecutor, he hunted and killed Christians before his conversion. Yet Jesus saw something other than a traitor and persecutor in them. Indeed, Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah was astonishing. Only someone very special could have seen so clearly, as Peter did, who Jesus really was. All this suggests something quite important and theological. We should never dare to judge anyone, not even ourselves, as the stories of Peter and Paul teach us.
None of us is living up to the beauty that is inside us, a beauty that only God can see clearly. All of us, no matter how terrible we live our lives, can turn them around. If a traitor can become the pope, and a persecutor one of the greatest of Jesus’ disciples, then imagine the potential within us, a potential that God can awake and make real if only we would let him.
The feast of Saints Peter and Paul is not only a celebration of the lives of these great saints but also a celebration of the good that is inside us, locked up, and ready to spring open when God touches our hearts like he did with Peter’s and Paul’s. Once Peter and Paul met Jesus, as John before them, they did not live for themselves any longer. The names of both of them were changed.
Simon was named Peter, the rock for the building of the church. Saul became Paul, made into an apostle after his conversion.
My friends, at Baptism we, too, were given a new name and a mission to find God in all the circumstances and events of our lives and to give witness to Jesus Christ through our self-giving and our love. That might mean to be willing to serve others at all times, to sacrifice hours and days to the care of our children, our spouses, or aging parents; to give our own comfort up sometimes for the good of others; to give up our sense of competition; to silence a harsh word we are about to utter; and so many other small things that come up in the source of a normal day in our lives.
So why not just let Jesus unlock our hearts and minds so that we can better serve God and one another by using those wonderful gifts God has given to each one of us. Especially the gifts of Jesus, our example and the Holy Spirit, our enabler, let’s just live our Baptismal promises.