Third Sunday of Easter – Year B

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William J. Donnelly, O.S.A.
Church of St. Augustine
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Ps 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9
1 Jn 2:1-5a
Lk 24:35-48

“Peace be with you.” My heart is joyful when I hear these words repeated in our gospel readings on the Second and Third Sundays of Easter. The first greeting of Peace was in John’s Gospel last Sunday, when Christ appeared to the disciples fearing the wrath of the religious authorities. The disciples, familiar with the unexpected of Christ’s ministry, were awakened from their dark moment when the Risen Christ appeared with the words of peace. A greeting like an ointment soothing the pain of their infirmity.

The second “Peace be with you” is in today’s Gospel by Luke, who is a wonderful storyteller. Earlier in the chapter that is not presented in today’s Gospel reading, Luke recounts the scene where two very confused disciples are returning to Emmaus having listened to the Holy Women’s encounter with the angels at the empty tomb announcing that He is alive. What to make of the women’s story was certainly part of disciples conversation. Luke then introduces a stranger who engages the two travelers, surprising them with his knowledge of the scriptures. The encounter becomes their teachable moment, an awakening. Finally, arriving at their destination, the disciples invite the stranger to join them for dinner. During the meal, when the bread was broken, their guest revealed himself to be Christ, their Teacher.

In today’s Scripture passage, the author Luke has these joy filled disciples, out of control with excitement, returning to Jerusalem explaining what had happened to them on their journey. No sooner had they started their narrative when Christ appears, a moment of illumination. What did they hear? “Peace be with you.” Instantly, their bewilderment turns to amazement and joy. Once again, Christ becomes the Teacher enlightening the students about Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, all the scriptural stories associated with the coming of the Messiah. Easter is now the fulfillment of the First Covenant. Alleluia! Now there is hope for all, Jews and Gentiles, for the new Covenant is a Covenant of Mercy: “Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing.” Mercy is the cornerstone of Christ’s Peace, a stone once rejected has now replaced the stone of hatred or as the prophets say: a heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh.

The Holy Week stories reveal that even the most intimate of relationships has a blindness which in the case of the disciples becomes a revelation, a moment of understanding. What is our blindness, our lack of understanding? Let me suggest one area that can form cataracts over our eyes and hearts. How often do we think of these students of Christ as Jewish men and women?

If you look at the paintings of Christ and the early Christian community in any museum, you would think they were born in Europe! The clearest example is the statue of the Jewish King David by Michelangelo, who presents David as uncircumcised. Often we have failed to recognize the origins of our faith, our Jewish fathers and mothers, our biblical family. There is an old virus that has hardened the hearts and eyes of many over the centuries. We have called these cataracts of hatred and discrimination: anti-Semitism. With all the medications that have been developed during our lifetime, there is no drug that can cure anti-Semitism. A virus has caused the death of so many, Shoah – The Holocaust.

What we do have today is an acknowledgement that there is a disease which is classified as sin. Unfortunately, it took a long time for our Catholic Church to acknowledge that our community has sinned again our Jewish brothers and sisters, a history of anti-Semitism. How do we recover from this disease? Each of us must return to the classroom as did the disciples at Easter to learn that our Jewish brothers and sisters have the same dignity as we do. The prophets spoke about our conception when God called each of us by name. Naming before our parents named us! Naming is an act of love in the Bible as it is with mothers and fathers. During this Easter Season, I suggest that we need to recall our Christian heritage which is rooted in the First or Old Testament. If we honor Joseph and Mary, then we must honor their relatives.

While we return to the classroom of life seeking the Peace that Christ brings at Easter, may we also allow ourselves to learn and understand that the classroom has a universal language; it is called prayer. Do our Jewish neighbors have the same universal language? How about the Hindu community, the Muslin community? I believe prayer is the universal language that hopefully allows us to be healed of the diseases that can kill our spirits. Like all languages, we need good teachers to enlighten us as to the proper use of the language. Christ is the Divine Teacher, let him into your classroom along with our brothers and sisters so that we can pray the Easter greeting together: “Peace be with you.” Alleluia!