Monday, November 25, 2013

Homily - 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year A)

3rd Sunday of Easter (Year A)
First Reading: Acts 2:14, 22-33           Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-21          Gospel Reading: Luke 24:13-35


Possums are smart animals. You wouldn’t think so, because, you hardly ever see one, except when it’s dead on the road. There’s a joke that goes, “Why did the chicken cross the road? To prove to the possum that it could be done!”
But possums, it turns out, are smart. They won’t enter a hole if there's just one set of tracks going into it. They know there's something in there. But if there are two sets of tracks, the possum will enter and not be afraid.
The message of Easter is that we can enter the grave - we don’t have to fear death because there are tracks leading out of the tomb. And this is the message that we need to hear this Easter Season - “Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!”

We are in the Easter Season and this is the 3rd Sunday. During these weeks after Easter, the Church puts us in touch with the first men and women who experienced the Risen Jesus in order to deepen our appreciation and understanding of the mystery of the resurrection. In the First Reading from Acts of the Apostles, set on the day of Pentecost, Peter's proclamation to the people of Jerusalem explains that the crucifixion and resurrection were part of the plan of God, foretold by the Sacred Scripture. We see here the Spirit in action, empowering Peter to speak fearlessly. In the Second Reading from his 1st Letter, Peter reminds the Christians that Jesus through his blood has paid the ransom for us and the saving hope is given to us. He tells that all our faith and hope as believers are centered on this mystery of the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospel Reading from Luke, we have the beautiful story of two disciples walking with Risen Jesus on the road to a village called Emmaus. During their walk with the Risen Lord their eyes were kept closed from recognizing him. But later that day, when he was at table with them, their eyes were opened while he broke the bread and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.

The First Reading of today taken from the Acts of the Apostles tells us about Peter's first sermon. Imagine what it must have been like to hear the Gospel message directly from the mouths of those who had personally encountered the Risen Christ and who's lives had been changed by God’s Holy Spirit. This sermon was addressed particularly to the Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem nearly two months after the Passover festival to commemorate the ancient Jewish festival of Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood along with the eleven, raised his voice and proclaimed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. He explained to the crowds that Jesus who had been handed over to those who crucified him outside of the law according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. He quoted the words of king David in Psalm 16. This message of Peter was a call to penance and conversion. However, on behalf of God, it was a message of love, mercy and forgiveness. Addressing some of those who had killed Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, Peter expressed that the Lord would forgive them if they had a change of heart. God would welcome as His children all those who would embrace the truth, believing that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah and Savior.

Today’s Second Reading from the First Letter of Peter echoes the spiritual knowledge, understanding and wisdom that Peter received by the grace of God. To him was given an in-depth perception of the redemptive plan of God. He tells the Gentile believers and us too, that God has specially chosen us in Christ. He asks us to invoke the Father, the one who judges all people impartially according to our deeds during our earthly exile. He advices us to conduct with reverence which is noticeable. He reminds us that Jesus through his blood has paid the ransom for us and the saving hope is given to us. He tells that all our faith and hope as believers are centered on this mystery of the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Before creation, God foreknew that sin would enter the world and that Christ would redeem mankind. This knowledge has now been revealed to the world at the end of the ages for our sake. For we know that the almighty God who raised Jesus from the dead and gave him glory. So, by setting our faith and hope in the Risen Jesus, we shall also be raised from the dead and glorified according to our deeds.

In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke we hear about “The Emmaus journey.” The story as given by St. Luke is very familiar to us, and is powerful and evocative. Two little known disciples, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple are trudging along the road towards Emmaus, a village located seven miles northwest of Jerusalem. It was the day of the Resurrection, but these two wandering disciples did not grasp the entire situation. The cruel death of Jesus completely shook them. They were totally perplexed and confused and their hope was shattered. Disbelief has overpowered them. They are leaving Jerusalem and its disturbing events, because, for them, Jesus’ death was an unmitigated tragedy.
a) “What are you discussing as you walk along?”
Now, as the two disciples were walking down the road discussing all the events of Jesus' death and the rumors of his resurrection, a stranger (Risen Jesus) drew near and walked with them. Then he asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They were taken by surprise when this person expressed his ignorance of what had happened in Jerusalem, "About Jesus of Nazareth." As they themselves were dejected and disillusioned at this time they chose to discuss the terrible events of the past few days with him. They told how their chief priests and rulers handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. Like many Jews, they were convinced that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. But with his death, their hope was dashed to pieces. They also told that they had heard some rumors of a 'resurrection' but of him they saw nothing.
b) “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter his glory?”
But Jesus was not about to allow them to wallow in their sorrow. So, he said to them, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Forthwith, Jesus did again what he used to do while still with them - reach out to and teach them. So, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in the scriptures concerning himself. Exposing their lack of understanding and faith about the Messiah, he told them that he had to undergo all sufferings before entering his glory. He reviewed the Old Testament and the Tradition to show to them that the Jerusalem events were in reality his triumph over death to attain his glory. They must had been convinced since later they said, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?"
c) “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”
As they reach their destination, Jesus indicates he will continue on his own. He really would have done so, if they had not invited him to stay with them - “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” Jesus never forces himself on us. But without him, a real darkness, much more than the darkness of evening would have come down on these two men.
And as they sit at table, the stranger becomes the host and Master. He takes the bread, says the blessing, breaks it and distributes it to them. For the early Church, this pointed clearly to their own Eucharistic celebrations. The disciples' eyes are opened. They now really see the stranger for who he is – Jesus himself, with whom they had been talking about all the time. At that moment, he vanishes.
The disciples’ invitation to the stranger they have met on the road has rich overtones of meaning in this context as well. In Luke’s narrative, it indicates the openness of the disciples to receiving a further revelation. And in a larger context, it points toward the Eucharistic mystery, in which Jesus indeed continues to stay with us.
Again, like other resurrection appearances, this one too is marked by delayed recognition. The actions in which the disciples recognize Jesus are the familiar ones which accompanied any Jewish meal, and which are highlighted in the feeding of the five thousand, and the last supper: taking, blessing, breaking, and giving. These four actions continue to be essential to the celebration of the Christian Eucharist.
d) “They set out at once and returned to Jerusalem.”
And, after all these experiences, what do Cleopas and his companion do? “They set out at once and returned to Jerusalem,” from which they were fleeing. Their excitement was the power by which they could not but help themselves to proclaim that Jesus had been raised from the dead! They were greeted by the same insight on the part of the Eleven. The return of the two disciples from Jerusalem to Emmaus was a pilgrimage of faith - of lost and found faith.

So, what we can we take from the many themes that emerge from the Scripture Readings today?
First, we need to know that the Resurrection of Jesus is a central event – that it changed everything. We need to see that it was foreshadowed in the Hebrew Scriptures and completed in the life of Jesus.
The Road to Emmaus may feel like any other post-Resurrection appearances, but its impact is far-reaching. That walk to Emmaus is a metaphor for our own life journey of faith, when the Lord catches up with us too. It stands as a symbol for the whole Christian life. Life, as depicted in the Scriptures, is a journey. We are called a 'pilgrim people,' always on the march to our heavenly home. Our journey of faith is a journey of learning and entering deeper into the mystery of the Risen Christ.
Gospels come to life as we imagine ourselves taking part in them. In this Gospel, with the two disciples walking on the road, we might picture ourselves represented, on our life's journey. We need, however, to realize that we are never alone in our life's journey. He is with us all the time and in all situations. But, as happened with the two disciples, we at times feel he has abandoned us, he has let us down, he no longer cares. We need to be ready to recognize him entering our lives so that we can respond appropriately to him.
There is a practical therapy to be found and used in Emmaus. It begins by facing what we fear and escape from, even by telling ourselves or others the happy ending. Christian reality has no need of refuge. We need not fear. His word taught them the meaning of his life and gave hope in their disappointment. Our lives may be crowded with duties and customs and routines; our minds, full of disappointments; our consciences, depressed, with sins. There seems little room for hope in all this. What can we do?
The Gospel goes on to tell of the next great step the two disciples took. They invited the stranger into their home. As he walked along with them he entered their lives where they were, namely, in their distress. That is the point where we too should go to meet Jesus. We can have him as a guest in our homes. Jesus always wants to meet us where we are, not where we would like to be or where we think we ought to be. He comes to us in ordinary life situations, but he never forces himself on us.
When we read the Emmaus story what strikes us as amazing is not that the two disciples finally recognize Jesus, but that they fail to do so in the first place. We know the end of the story and wonder how the two disciples could fail to recognize such an obvious conclusion. Yet how often in our lives do we fail to recognize the presence of Christ?
Jesus wants to communicate with us and he speaks to us and is truly present in the Scriptures. More specifically, Jesus is present among us in all our sacramental celebrations but especially in the Eucharist. Jesus as Word and Eucharist is our food for our pilgrimage to our true home. In the breaking of bread he unites the Christian community into his Body and also keeps his promise to be with us till the end of time.
The disappearance of the Risen Jesus at the moment of the breaking of the bread with the two disciples can be seen as sacramental pedagogy. He intended to live on in the world through his disciples and therefore he transforms us as his messengers in the world of today.
Finally, “The Emmaus Journey” begins in blindness, gloom, disillusionment and despair. It ends with the warming of the disciples' hearts, the opening of their eyes, and their return to Jerusalem. Their encounter with the Risen Jesus had made them see the events in Jerusalem from a new perspective - God's. Instead of looking at Jesus' death as the end of their aspirations, they now view it as the beginning of a new life in the Risen Christ. It begins with the shattering of an immature faith and ends with the disciples giving witness to a mature faith. Their story now is a new one—a story filled with life and hope. And this is the Good News of today.


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