The Third Sunday of Easter [B]
Acts 3:13-15,17-19 + 1 John 2:1-5 + Luke 24:35-48
… Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
At some point after the Resurrection, the disciples might have wondered, “Jesus rising from the dead is great, but what now? Do we have to follow suit, and then is Jesus going to start building the Kingdom on earth with all of His Risen Disciples?” Was Jesus going to set up shop in Jerusalem, and establish a new world order with the apostles as his cabinet officers? “What’s next?”
If someone had asked Jesus “What’s next?”, Jesus would have answered that soon, He was going to ascend above the earth, to return to the Right Hand of God the Father. But, on the other hand, where were the disciples going? They were going to go from Jerusalem to all the corners of the world. As Jesus said in last Sunday’s passage from the Holy Gospel, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Jesus’ earthly journey was almost over, but not the apostles’ journey.
Jesus, through His Death on the Cross, opened the gates of Heaven so that everyone could enter through them. But does that mean that being a Christian is just about saying “Thank you, Jesus, for opening up Heaven”, and then waiting to be taken from this world to Heaven’s gate? Nothing in the Scriptures, and nothing in the Church that Jesus established, says anything like this. From the moment that we become Christians at Baptism, until the time that we die on this earth, our motto should be those words Jesus spoke: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Consider these words of Jesus in the light of another statement of His.
I doubt that many of us have even been anywhere near the Middle East. So is there any personal meaning for us in the words of Jesus, when He says that His followers are to preach the Good News of the Gospel “to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem”?
Jerusalem was the historical origin of the Church: it was there that Jesus celebrated His Last Supper, there that He died and rose from the dead. It was there that the apostles waited during those ten days after Jesus’ Ascension for the Holy Spirit to come down upon them from Heaven, to fill their hearts, minds, and souls. “Jerusalem” represents for us both the historical city where the Church began and the place in the soul where God plants His grace.
When Jesus tells us to preach the Gospel “to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem”, He means for us to preach the Gospel to as many people as we can, beginning with those closest to our souls: those within our homes, in our classrooms, and in our neighborhoods. It’s to the people there that Jesus is sending us when he says, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” But what are we sent to do?
Of course, there are many ways of “preaching”. We should keep in mind the saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach always, and use words if necessary.” In other words, you can preach without opening your mouth. In fact, our example is usually more persuasive than our words, since most of us are not great speakers.
The greatest work we can carry out as Christians is to forgive. As the Father forgave us through Jesus’ Death on the Cross, so we forgive others through our example. The Christian offers forgiveness first without demanding an apology beforehand, and not even expecting the apology at the same time as forgiveness is given: just as Christ on the Cross not only did not receive an apology from those around Him, but received instead mockery and scorn.
For us, too, Jesus does not wait to forgive us until we are good and strong enough to appear before Him and offer an apology. He offers to cleanse us of our sinfulness when we are yet babies, unable even to speak or realize that we are conceived in this world as sinners. We in our turn should offer forgiveness from our hearts and through our words and actions before someone who has wronged us even asks for it. This is the message that alone can bring peace to the world and make it possible for Jesus’ words to come true: “Peace be with you.”