"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

4th SUNDAY OF EASTER (A) May 3, 2020

Acts 2: 14a, 36-41 Psalm 23 1 Peter 2: 20b,-25 John 10: 1-10

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

PRE-NOTE:

Our Sunday readings during this liturgical year are taken primarily from Matthew. We have posted an overview of Matthew’s gospel on our webpage. It may help worshipers tune to the individual texts as we encounter them these Sundays. Parish scripture groups that focus on the upcoming Sunday readings and the RCIA community may also find these reflections helpful. Go to: https://www.preacherexchange.com/essay.htm.



Let’s spend some time on the first reading from Acts. The reading is a continuation from last week. Peter is addressing the crowd that assembled on Pentecost. When they hear the disciples speaking in diverse languages they ask, "What does this mean?" Some bystanders accuse the disciples of being drunk, so Peter stands up and addresses them. He tells them that a promise God made long ago to the Jews has now been fulfilled – "to you and to your children, and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call...."

Our lives of faith are also based on a promise we have heard. We do not always have visible signs of assurance. When things are bad for us our natural optimism, which ordinarily tells us, "Things will work out," fails us. Optimism under hard trial is not enough. Our hope is that, even when our own resources and strengths are inadequate, God has made a promise to be with us. We can not predict what shape the fulfillment of the promise will take. But we cling to the hope that the God who promised to be with us, and who may even seem hidden when we are most in need, will not abandon us. The faithful God of the promise will see us through to life.

All visible signs of hope were absent for Jesus at his crucifixion. Mere optimistic thinking would not be enough for him, or his disciples. Rather, Peter reminds the crowd, the one they crucified was raised up by God as "both Lord and Christ." God had been faithful to God’s Servant, and through Christ had kept the promise to be faithful to Israel. Promises were being fulfilled to the listeners as Peter spoke.

Peter is the one who helps the on-lookers understand the events that have happened among them, lest they miss what God has done. Without this Spirit-filled preacher, the "noise" (3:2) they heard and the "foreign tongues" (3:4) addressed to them, would just have been oddities, or strange occurrences to be discussed with the family at supper. Instead, Peter helps them see the wrong they had done Jesus and calls the people to repent. We do need speakers/preachers to help us interpret our world through the Word. God never ceases working among us, but for many, it can remain a "strange noise," or oddity, the subject of speculation and hearsay.

Peter calls them and us to repentance. Repent from what? He says, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." That is another task for the preacher and witness to the resurrection, all the baptized – help us see how we have taken on and acted upon values we have absorbed from our culture. We have measured people by their looks, age, race, economic achievements, possessions, social standing, etc. We have seen others with more, faster, larger, and the latest – and we have coveted them

In speaking of what God has done in Jesus, and how the crowd had misunderstood him and had him killed, Peter got to the hearts of the people: "They were cut to the heart." He had shined a light on what had been darkness for them, he had exposed their folly and misdeeds. He made them aware of what they had missed and stirrred an instinctive response in them.

The "Harpers Bible Dictionary" says that the heart was probably the most important anthropological word in the Hebrew scriptures. They understood the heart to be the center of emotions, feelings, moods and passions. In the heart were located joy, grief, ill temper and fear. It was also the source of thoughts and reflection, for it even had intellectual capacity. The heart understood and provided wisdom and could discern good and evil. Within the heart, humans meet God’s Word (1 Sam. 12:24; Jer. 32:40). Thus, the heart would be seen as the place conversions take place. A person touched at the level of the heart, was touched at the depths of who they were and where their deepest self was found. For us moderns, who make such a strict distinction between mind and heart, and who seem to live so much in our heads, as if detached from our fuller selves, the mind can get in our way and cause us to make excuses and evade the truth we need to hear.

Once their lives had been deeply touched by hearing his message, Peter called them to repent and be baptized. For most of us, especially those baptized at a young age, baptism can seem rather remote. We have traveled a long way from the baptismal font. A friend told me that back in 2000, the Jubilee Year, his pastor had recommended that people make a pilgrimage to the church where they were baptized. So, my friend did and even requested to see the baptismal registry for the year he was born. There, besides his name, he saw his parents and godparents’ names. The parish priest allowed him to take the book, opened to his baptism, to the font where he was baptized. As he stood by the font, he felt overwhelming gratitude for his parents and family for starting him on his journey of faith. He also recommitted himself to his baptism and asked God to lead him, now in his sixties, on the next steps of his faith journey. This simple ritual stirred his faith and trust in the God whom he felt had fulfilled a promise made long ago at baptism to the child-now-man. My friend was also strengthened in his faith that for the next part of his journey, God would be faithful to him.

"Repent," Peter tells us today. We repent for fitting in so well with what Peter calls, "this corrupt generation." We recommit ourselves, as we once did at the Easter Vigil, to our baptismal promises. Here is a way of doing what my friend did, make an act of recommitment: When we can return to public worship, as we enter church deliberately and consciously sign ourselves with the water in the fonts. Making the cross over our bodies, we might say a silent prayer asking God to keep us faithful to the Gospel of Jesus and to renew within us our baptismal calling to take up the cross and follow Jesus.

  • Sometimes a phrase appears in scripture that has been hallowed by use and time. It is such an acceptable phrase that we don’t even think to ask what its meaning for us might be. In the reading from Peter today such a phrase appears: "By his wounds you have been healed." We certainly have heard that before, but what do you think it means? Well there are lots of applications. Perhaps a quote from an essay on the crucifixion will help us receive the words of Peter, "By his wounds you have been healed."
  • "....we earthly pilgrims are burdened with a combination of physical vulnerability, moral frailty, sin, and the prospect of death. This describes our predicament as creatures who have inherited a world whose integrity is damaged by sin and sundered from its proper relation with its creator. We have no clear idea what to make of our situation.
  • Into this milieu comes Jesus of Nazareth, the charismatic preacher who revealed himself to be God’s definitive prophet – God’s own child. He shocked people by proclaiming God’s mercy and forgiveness directly to all persons, regardless of race, class, tribe, or religion. He convinced many that he was from God by exercising divine power to change lost lives through healing and miracles. This is the Jesus who entered into the final drama of God’s manifestation of redemptive love when he was nailed to the cross....
  • All our vague dread of our vulnerability, our fear of dying, our gnawing sense of our moral frailties, and our clear consciousness of our particular acts of injustice, cruelty and pettiness – all this becomes integrated in to the mystery described by Paul. We are saved.
  • The cross of Christ has taken up our mortality and our weakness. If we have faith in the one lifted up, we will find life, not death, beyond the pains and tragedy of the cross. Through this mystery of dying for us, Christ entered into life. "Although he was [God’s] son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him..." (Heb. 5: 8-9)
  • ---- SEEING AND BELIEVING: IMAGES OF CHRISTIAN FAITH, by Frank Kacmarcik and Paul Philibert (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, page 69-70.)

    Another example. I think it is from Henry Nouwen. (Sorry, but I can’t remember the source.) A psychiatrist had been struggling with a very difficult patient. "I’ve done everything I know how to do but you are still the same!" She sobbed and added, "I have failed to get through to you." From that moment, the patient began to show a dramatic improvement. She was moved by the depth of her therapist’s love for her. The shared wounds of the healer and the afflicted person proved therapeutic to both. Healing for the soul can only come from the hand of those who have been wounded. We minster to the sickness of our society, not from a position of superiority, from above, but along side of and with.

    Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

    http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050320.cfm