3rd Sunday of Easter
April 17, 2021
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Livestreamed and Broadcast
Incredulous for Joy
Years ago, when I was in the sixth or seventh grade, the Catholic school I attended decided that math would be taught in a new way. Instead of our old familiar arithmetic textbooks, ‘new and improved’ math books were given us. In fact, we were no longer studying arithmetic; now it was called the “new math”.
The new math turned out to be quite a struggle for both teacher and students. It was clear that Sister Clementine was as frustrated with it as we were. One day, we were all noodling on a particularly difficult equation. Quite by accident, I happened to be the one to land on the right answer. Aware that math was neither my favorite nor my best subject, I guess you could say that Sister Clementine was “incredulous for joy”. “You of all people!” she said . . . That I was the one to arrive at the right answer seemed ‘too good to be true!’
And that’s the theme of the first part of today’s Gospel from St. Luke: That Jesus had risen from the dead in his human body seemed ‘too good to be true’. As the Gospel passage opens, the Eleven Apostles are discussing the experience of the disciples who had encountered the Risen Lord on the Road to Emmaus and how they finally recognized him ‘in the breaking of bread’, that is to say, the Eucharist. As the Eleven discuss this with the two disciples, the Risen Lord stands in their midst and says “Peace be with you!” – Shalom! Even though Jesus died and rose so that all of us might be at peace with God, the Eleven, upon seeing the Risen Lord, were anything but peaceful. They were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost, a spirit.
Jesus then addressed their fears directly. He showed them that he was neither a ghost nor a phantom, nor a disembodied spirit. Although he was made glorious in his Resurrection, the Jesus who stood before them that day was the same Lord and Master with whom the Eleven had walked and whose crucifixion they had witnessed. Jesus proceeded to show them in three ways the reality of his bodily resurrection: First, he invited the Apostles to look at the wounds in his hands, feet, and side, wounds that were made when he, “the author of life”, was crucified. Second, he invited them to touch him, to demonstrate that he had flesh and bones. At this, Luke’s Gospel tells us, the Eleven were “incredulous for joy” – They hear the Risen Lord, they see the Risen Lord, and they touch the Risen Lord. They are filled with joy yet it all seems ‘too good to be true’. So Jesus does one more thing, he eats in their presence a piece of baked fish. This is a third way Jesus demonstrated the reality of his crucified and risen flesh, and in eating with the Apostles, Jesus again reminded them of the Eucharist that they would soon celebrate with the earliest members of the Church.
“Wonder and Awe”
What can we take away from this first part of today’s Gospel? Perhaps it’s that we should examine our own life of faith. From childhood onward, we have heard that Jesus rose from the dead. We read it in Scripture, celebrate it in the Liturgy, and meditate on it in the Rosary. Yet, we ought to ask ourselves whether we simply take this great mystery for granted. The Apostles’ mix of fear, incredulity, and joy ought to say something to us, and it is this: Far from taking our faith in the Resurrection for granted, we should be amazed. The Spirit’s gift of “wonder and awe” should fill our hearts – not only at the Lord’s Resurrection – but also over the fact that, someday, we too will rise from the dead, that our flesh will be clothed with glory, and that we shall live forever in Christ. When we really think about it, this truth may seem to us to be ‘too good to be true’!
“He Opened Their Minds To Understand the Scriptures”
Notice, then, that it was not enough that Jesus spoke to the Apostles, and invited them to look at and touch his wounds, or even that he ate with them. The Risen Lord had to take another step to bring them from ‘joyful incredulity’ to faith in the reality of his risen life, and this is what he did: St. Luke tells us that Jesus ‘opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.’ Just as he did with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, the Risen Lord, the Word made flesh who had died and rose, opened up the real meaning of the Scriptures to the Eleven Apostles. He showed them how Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms all point to the fact that “the Messiah would suffer and rise on the third day” and that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” would be preached to the nations.
Yet, in opening their minds to Scripture Jesus offered more than a Scripture lesson. As teachers can attest, opening the minds of their students is not just a matter of standing up in front of a class and pouring new information into their minds. Rather, a skillful teacher engages, engenders enthusiasm, and helps students see what is really important about the subject matter at hand. The Risen Lord did all that and more for the Eleven Apostles. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the Risen Lord took them to the core meaning of Scripture, viz., ‘God’s set plan and purpose’ (AA 2:23) for the salvation of the world. What’s more, he set their hearts on fire with the divine love that animated God’s plan. That is why the Lord said to them, “You will be witnesses to all these things” – And, don’t we find Peter, in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, preaching to people in Jerusalem from every corner of the earth? He is delivering the same message the Risen Lord had delivered to the Apostles in the Upper Room, namely, that “…God brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer. Repent, therefore, and be converted that your sins may be wiped away” (AA 3:19).
What the Risen Lord did for the Apostles in the Upper Room, and what Peter in turn did for the crowds, was to evangelize them, that is to say . . . to open up the Scriptures, to take them to its core message, the kerygma, and to fill them with wonder, awe, praise and thanksgiving for God’s goodness . . . and then to help them turn their lives around so that they could begin living even now the new life that Jesus our Savior has won for us. Once we really open our hearts to this core message and to the person of the Risen Lord, isn’t it the case that everything changes, that we start living and thinking differently? That we willingly conform our lives to the Commandments? That we gratefully seek the Lord’s forgiveness when we sin (Cf. 1 Jn 2:1-5a)? And that we ourselves become living witnesses to the truth and reality of our faith, a faith that is entirely centered on this Messiah who suffered and rose from the dead?
If I may, this is the whole point of my new pastoral letter, Light Brightly Visible 2.0, and this is what Pope Francis means when he speaks of ‘missionary conversion.’ It is not enough to be instructed in the faith and to know the formulas of our faith. Important as that is – and I wish more Catholics were better instructed than they are – we must allow the Risen Lord and his Spirit to open our minds to understand Scripture, such that we no longer take our faith for granted but rather journey with the Apostles from fear, to joyful incredulity, to full-fledged, joyful, infectious faith in the Risen Lord. This is what it means to be a ‘missionary disciple’ and when a parish is filled with missionary disciples, then it truly comes alive.
Using Well the 40 Days of Easter
So, even though many who came to Mass at Easter are once again absent, let us who are here resolve to make good use of the 40 days of the Easter season, leading up the Ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost: Let us take the journey from fear, hesitancy, ennui, and presumption to joyful amazement, and then let us proceed from joyful amazement to the overflowing joy of truly believing that Christ died for our sins and that he rose so that we might live with him forever. Christ is truly risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!