Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4; 1John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48
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Fr Galadima Bitrus,
OSA THE CENTRALITY OF REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS IN CHRISTIAN PREACHING
As the Easter period progresses, the liturgy continuous to recommend for our meditation the activities and words of the Resurrected Christ in his appearances to his disciples, as well as the activities of the disciples who became transformed and fortified by Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. This Sunday, the readings reveal the theme of repentance and forgiveness of sins as constituting the essence and ultimate objective of the preaching mission entrusted to the apostles.
The 1st Reading (Acts 3:13-19) is the speech of Peter following the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple (see Acts 3:1-11). The people were running to Peter and John, “utterly astonished”, staring at them as though they had made the man walk by their power (3:12), a phenomenon also very common among Christians today, as a result of which dubious men and women have arisen and do anything to appear to work miracles in order to win attention and admiration.
Peter in his speech immediately addressed this problem, quickly and rightly refocusing the attention to the work of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who has glorified Jesus (3:13.16), thus underscoring the fact that it is faith in Jesus that brought about the healing of the lame man, not him and John, and therefore teaching us that no pastor or man of God is a healer but faith in the risen and gloried Christ.
Peter also took this opportunity to remind the people of the sin in which they were living (3:14-15.17-18) and to make the call for them to repent and turn to God for forgiveness and renewal: “repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out” (3:19). In this way, we are taught repentance and forgiveness as the essence and ultimate objective of apostolic activity and preaching.
In the 2nd Reading (1 John 2:1-5), the author presents himself as a parent and addresses his audience as “My little children” (“Teknìa mou”), thus appealing that we listen to him with child-like attention and trust. He presents Christ as an advocate or attorney capable of not only advocating for us but also offering himself in atonement for our sins, thus demonstrating how much Christ loves us.
Therefore, he calls on us to show that we know that Christ loves us this much by keeping his instructions or commandments.
The author identifies avoiding sin as the ultimate objective of his writing. As we read in v.1: “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” But if we happen to sin, he wants us to also know that it is not the end of the road in our journey to holiness. Thus he points out that we have in Jesus an advocate and an atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the whole world (vv.1c-2).
The word advocate translates the Greek “paràklētos”, which literally means “one who stands alongside” or “one who speaks on behalf of another”. It is used to describe also the work of the Holy Spirit in John 14-16 (see 14:16.26; 15:26; 16:7) and corresponds to the work of an attorney in legal parlance.
To say that when we sin, we have in Jesus an advocate or an attorney with the Father therefore implies that Jesus stands by us and speaks for us, doing everything to ensure that we do not stand condemned before the Father. Furthermore, when we have merited condemnation, he is a special kind of advocate or Attorney who can offer himself as an atoning sacrifice (Gk “hilasmòs”), a notion that is also present in 1 Jn 4:10; Lev 23:26 and Num 5:8.
This is exactly what he did by dying on the cross so that we may be acquitted from the charges of our sins and be freed from the penalty of eternal death which our sins merit. If we have known him and how much he has loved us, the least we can do is to keep his instructions or commandments, as anyone would do to such a loyal Attorney. In this readiness to obediently keep his word is revealed the perfection of our love for Christ. As we read in v.5: “whoever keeps his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection.”
In the Gospel (Luke 24:35-48), we read the Lucan account of the appearance of Jesus to his disciples in Jerusalem, following the account of his appearance to the two disciples he met on the road to Emmaus, with whom he broke the Word and the Bread (see 24:13-35). When these two had made their way back to Jerusalem to share their experience with the apostles and with the other disciples, they met them also proclaiming: “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon” (24:33-34).
As they narrated their experience, Jesus appeared again standing in their midst and greeting them with his traditional invocation of peace (24:36); for they were startled and terrified, this time not only by fear of the Jews as we find in John, but also because they thought it was a ghost. Jesus questions why they were afraid and doubtful and went ahead to show them his body and the signs of his passion, and also ate with them to dispel their fear and doubt, and to reassure them he wasn’t a ghost but was indeed risen (24:37-43). He further broke the Word with them, exhorting them to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins (24:44-48).
Just as we saw in the preaching of the apostles in the 1st Reading (especially Acts 3:19), repentance and forgiveness of sins are singled out as what should constitute the essence and ultimate objective of apostolic preaching: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (24:48).
Christianity today, therefore, by virtue of its very essence deriving from the teachings of Christ and of the Apostles, cannot minimize denouncing sin, calling to repentance and proclaiming forgiveness. These are in the first place, the reasons why the prophets were sent; they are the reasons why Jesus himself came and the object of the preaching mission he entrusted to the apostles, and not the craze for miracles and prosperity that have tended to dominate the preaching of the Gospel these days.
“God of hosts, bring us back, let your face shine on us and we shall be saved!” (Psalm 80:8).
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
You are witnesses
The Gospel reading today presents us with the topic of Jesus’ appearance and his last instruction to the disciples. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared severally to his disciples. Strictly speaking we don’t know every single occasion that Jesus appeared to his disciples. However, the Gospels recorded that Jesus appeared 10 times to his disciples in his resurrected body. In the past few days we have read some of these instances and we shall still come across more. His appearance in today’s gospel is recorded by St. Luke as the last before the ascension of Jesus. Thus, being his last appearance Jesus did not only show his marks to the disciples He also left them with instructions. The instructions are: Repentance, forgiveness and witness.
Jesus’ Appearance: Jesus appeared to his disciples because He wanted to strengthen their faith and instruct them on what they are to do. Again, Jesus appeared to them in order to commission them as witnesses; He appeared to tell them about the coming of the Holy Spirit; He appeared to confirm to them that the Old Testament prophesies had been fulfilled and lastly, Jesus appeared to them so that they can have the correct interpretation of the Messiah. Precisely because of this last reason Jesus showed his wounds to them so that the glorious story of the resurrection will not be separated from the shameful death on the cross. Today, Christians say so much about Christ’s resurrection but finds the Cross awkward to teach and preach. This poor theology has affected modern day Christians who now see suffering solely as spiritual attack. Beloved, we must represent Christ well. Do not be carried away with material salvation. St. Paul says in 1Cor.1:23; 18 that we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but for us who believe the cross is the power of God.
Again, the gospel says that through the Scriptures Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to understand what had happened to him. In Luke 24:32 the disciples asked themselves “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” Beloved, Luke emphasizes the essential role of the Scriptures in opening the eyes of the disciples. Therefore, if we do not study the Bible our eyes will not be open. We shall continue to disbelieve and argue blindly. We shall continue in doubt and fear. Through the Bible we received light into our soul and our eyes are open to the truth about Christ. Christians are exploited today because they have refused to encounter Jesus in the Word. Many Christians are ready to spend huge amount of money to buy oil than to buy a bible and study. Beloved, through the Scriptures Jesus appears to us anew; He appears to us in order to evidently instruct us and finally through the Scriptures the Spirit moves us to keep Christ’s instructions.
The Last Instructions: The second theme in our gospel reading today is Christ’s Last instructions. The instructions are: Repentance, forgiveness and witness. Jesus had said so many things before now; but in this last phase of life he asked them to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name. Beloved, if we repent of our sins; then we shall be forgiven. In the First reading we were presented with Peter’s second address to the people. In that address, Peter equally emphasized repentance and forgiveness. He said to them Repent and turn to God (Acts 3:19). Repentance was the message of all the prophets of old, it was the message of John the Baptist (Luke3:3); Jesus continued the same message saying “Repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). Therefore, repentance is the supreme message of every Christian. Often times we abandon this message to dwell so much on others things; we all want things to change but we don’t want to change. We spend so much time trying to change the things around us while in our heart we have refused to change. If we do not change our heart; our situations will not change.
Again, Jesus also rightly instructs us to forgive. Forgiveness is something everybody is eager to receive; but finds it difficult to give. Forgiveness is the fastest way a Christian can bear witness. For every Christian forgives is our primary business. If we cannot forgive we cannot bear witness to Christ. Forgiveness is closely tied to witnessing – in the Lord’s prayer we say “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” So forgiveness is a business of outreach. On the other hand, to forgive is very difficult. Thus, it is commonly said that “to err is human but to forgive is divine”. This implies that forgiveness is something that comes from the realm of the Spirit. Those who are carnally minded cannot forgive; but those who are spiritually minded can forgive. It is a divine function; so, those who interact with the Divine should manifest this function. More so, all of us have urgent need for forgiveness and so the second reading makes us to understand that all our sins are taken away by Christ who is our advocate before the Father, so we should never despair when we do wrong but should turn to God in confidence knowing that his love is far greater than ours. Beloved, God’s mercy is bigger than our mistakes. His love is bigger than our sins.
Lastly, Jesus says “You are witnesses to this.” Jesus appeared to them so that they will bear witness to him. Anyone who has encountered Christ is mandated by that very encounter to witness to him. Beloved, in John 4:29 When the Samaritan woman encountered Jesus she went out calling many to come and see. In John 20:18 Mary Magdalene had an encounter and she went into the street to relate Christ’s resurrection. Saul on his way to Damascus had his own encounter and he became an apostle to the world. Beloved, we are called to bear witnesses. As Christians, witness is our business. If we do not witness; then we are witless and worthless Christians. In the Kingdom our worth is determined by the souls we win. So, if you are not winning souls your worth diminishes. Thus let us be soul winners. Every Christian by virtue of his baptism into Christ is a witness – your life style becomes the very gospel to the world. Whatever you do is either bearing false witness or true witness. So, we must behave as children of light.
Fr. Paul Oredipe
We Are Witnesses to the Risen Lord
Our Gospel passage today follows Christ’s encounter with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They returned to Jerusalem and reported to the other disciples what they had seen in the breaking of the Bread – the name the early Church gave to the Eucharist celebration. Luke was not simply recording an apparition of the Risen Lord, but was also teaching that this same Lord is present in the Eucharist. “Peace be with you my child – do not be afraid – It is I”.
In our Gospel passage, the disciples of Jesus are troubled. They do not know what it means to rise from the dead. They do not understand the Scriptures. They will need some time. They will need some work. So we begin to see Jesus appearing to them, clearing up their thinking and preparing them to carry on. But their witness, in their humanity, would convince others that the Resurrection was real.
In the case of Our Blessed Lord, appearing after His Resurrection to the demoralized disciples, nothing could have been less like a ghost. He was real, gloriously real. To reassure them, He ate a piece of grilled fish before their eyes. He conveyed to them not the gloomy atmosphere of the grave, but the triumph of a new and unquenchable life. Life in all its fullness stood before them in the upper room.
Now, the rest of the Apostles in the Upper Room in this Gospel today when Christ appeared again, had not expressed the preference for the empirical method of verification before they would believe in the resurrection of Christ. But, somehow, Jesus knew that doubts are the essential characteristics of men generally. So, He set about satisfying and clearing these doubts in their minds: “Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have”.
And in case some of them had fever that is precisely when the sense of touch is deceptive, and which is why actually the measurement of temperature with the palm is not dependable, He went further still: “Have you anything here to eat? And they offered Him a piece of grilled fish, which He took and ate before their eyes”. They could not help but see the changes in their lives. Something incredible was happening, that is for sure. We need to remind ourselves of His love and presence and His gift of peace.
In the first reading, imagine how the people felt when Peter pointed out their worst fault. “You betrayed the Son of God. You put the Author of Life to death. You allowed Pilate to have his way with Jesus.” That probably would not have been well accepted. Yet, Peter goes on to say, “I realize that you didn’t know what you were doing. You were thinking in the ways of the world, not the ways of God.”
But then, Peter says something that points to the age-old truth that God’s ways are not our ways. He says, that even though you sinned by turning Christ over to Pilate, God raised Him from the dead. Even though you did the worst thing possible, God made the best thing come from that. God always is able to write straight with our crooked lines.
Saint Paul knows how to do it very well. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2: 20).
Later in the Gospel passage, Jesus who having opened the minds of the Apostles to understand all that has been written about Him, summarised in a most concise but complete manner, the entire import of His life and teaching: “So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem”. He ended it by adding this affirmative and elliptic statement and therefore, implies an onerous duty for all who believe in him, then and ever after – You are witnesses of these things.
It is in this bearing of witnesses that those actions of Jesus to convince His apostles of His resurrection become abundantly clear. Henceforth, Peter could say repeatedly when he discusses with the Jews: “We are his witnesses” (Acts 2:32). “Surely, we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). “We ate and drank with him after God had raised him from the dead” (Acts 10:41).
From that time and in the same way, all of us inherited this duty of being witnesses for all the things we have seen and heard, but particularly, the resurrection of Christ. We have to do it with the conviction of one who has seen, touched and eaten and drunk with the risen Lord. The Christian message is never fully ours until we have shared it with someone else. This is what being a Christian implies. It cannot be locked up in any one person’s head or heart.
Peter and the apostles became witnesses of two things. They experienced the power of Christ’s resurrection. They saw God do a marvelous thing in raising Christ from the dead. But the second thing they became witnesses of was salvation. Yet, Christ came to them, gave them the power of the Holy Spirit and freed them from their sins. They could now boldly go before the people and proclaim how merciful God really is.
Jesus still needs witnesses today. How many people do not know him? How many people do not know of His love and are still burdened by sin? We who have received the gift of faith have an obligation to share it with others. The world needs witnesses. The world needs to see lives transformed by grace, coherent Catholics who live the faith they profess.
As Jesus’ disciples today, we too are sent forth to bring the Good News to others.
How do we witness to Christ ?
As Saint Peter tells us, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
We are called to recognize Jesus for ourselves, and to recognize what difference this makes in our attitudes and daily living. We are asked to make that acknowledgment a reality in our lives, and to change as the first disciples changed. We should discover what the Easter event means for you and me.
Of course, we cannot do this alone, but Jesus assures us that God will empower us in all ways to meet the challenge of such a task. Throughout this Gospel narrative, we are called to participate in the meaning of resurrection, for Jesus and ourselves. We are given responsibility for spreading the good news among all people. We are charged to bring the kingdom of God into reality for those who have no hope and are bound up in cares and concerns of daily life that burden them. In all these, we are promised God’s guiding providence and care.
The disciples were sent by Jesus as we are sent by Him, to bring peace and justice into the world. This is the transformation that we are invited to embrace as followers of the Risen Lord, making Him known today in and through our lives. What greater ambition, challenge, and achievement could we be offered ?
You and I are witnesses of Christ too. We did not experience the resurrection first hand. But we can share how God has saved us from our sins and allowed us to stand before everyone without fear and tell them of God’s marvelous work. That we can do.
Considering our national situation and even the worldwide condition today, one major area where we need witnessing is being agents and instruments of Peace. Peace in our own spirit to start with; that we experience forgiveness and open ourselves to His love. That is when healing and reconciliation happens, through forgiveness. It starts right here within our heart and in our own community. We share with one another. If there is anything we have against one another, during this liturgy we must let go. Forgive. Be forgiven right here in our midst.
Pope Saint John Paul II reechoed the same message. He is truly being what Jesus says to his disciples in the Gospel today. “Be my witness. Take peace, reconciliation and love into the whole world.”
The message is the same as Jesus told his first disciples during those first Eucharist: “Be reconciled. Forgive one another. Return good for evil, love for hate,” and so on. “Be my witnesses throughout the world.” We need that message so desperately today, especially if we are going to resist, as John Paul says, every form of exaggerated nationalism, racism and intolerance.
I hope that as we celebrate this Eucharist today each of us is truly aware of how God is speaking to us through God’s Word and that we are trying to listen deeply in our hearts. But also, aware that now Jesus comes into our midst as we break the bread and Jesus is really present to us and He is offering to us the same message: “Peace. Overcome violence through love.” Or as John Paul says, “be artisans of peace. Return or respond to violence with the fascinating power of love.”
That is the message Jesus is offering us today. We must heed it and, as He told those first disciples, “You are to be my witnesses.” Take this message from here into the world, into our every day life. Be those messengers of peace, the peace of Jesus, the peace that our world needs so desperately.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pledge ourselves to bear witness to the most wonderful truth in the world. Christ, our God, our Saviour is truly risen from the dead. Alleluia.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.