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3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER (Cycle B)

Readings:
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Psalms 4:2, 4, 7-9
1 John 2:1-5
Luke 24:35-48

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: Opening Our Minds to Understand the Scriptures
It should be our goal, as human beings made in the image and likeness of God, to overcome ignorance and to grow in knowledge and understanding.  Today's Scripture readings deal with ignorance (First Reading), knowledge (Second Reading), and understanding (Gospel Reading). In today's Gospel, Jesus teaches His disciples how to interpret and understand the Scriptures.  He tells them that all the prophecies and promises found in the Old Testament refer to Him from the Torah (5 books of Moses) to the Psalms and the books of the Prophets. 

In the First and Second Readings we see the Apostles Peter and John interpreting the Scriptures as Jesus taught them.  St. Peter admonishes the Jews for their ignorance and preaches that Jesus is the fulfillment of what God announced before hand through His prophets.  His address is full of Old Testament imagery.  For example, he evokes Moses at the start of the Exodus liberation when God revealed Himself as the God of the Patriarchs (Acts 3:13a; Ex 3:6, 13), and he identifies Jesus as the "Suffering Servant" of Isaiah's prophecies who has been glorified as Isaiah foretold (Acts 3:13b; Is 52:13).  In the Second Reading, St. John alludes to Jesus' fulfillment of the Old Covenant sin sacrifices saying, "He is the expiation or our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world" (1 Jn 1:7).

The Church, from the very beginning of its universal mission, has taught the Scriptures as Jesus instructed us: that the "New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New" (St. Augustine).  One cannot study one verse in isolation from the related passage, or one passage in isolation from the chapter in which it is found, or one chapter in isolation from the book, or one book of Sacred Scripture in isolation from the whole volume of the Sacred Word, and to study all Scripture in the light of Jesus Christ.  It is then, in the light of true understanding and through a personal relationship with the Savior based on obedience to His commandments, that we can say that we truly know Christ (1 Jn 2:3), and we can sing, as we do in today's psalm, "Lord, let your face shine on us!" 

The First Reading Acts 3:13-15, 17-19 ~ Peter charges the Jews with culpable ignorance
Peter addressed the Jews at the Temple: 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has glorified his servant Jesus whom you handed over and denied in Pilate's presence, when he had decided to release him.  14 You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.  15 The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses. [..].  17 Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did; 18 but God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer.  19 Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away ...

Sts. Peter, John and the man Peter healed (Acts 3:1-10) have entered the Temple gate and are now in Solomon's Portico, a colonnade running along the inner side of the wall enclosing the outer court on the eastern side of the Temple.  It had rows of columns 27 feet high and a roof of cedar and was used as a place to gather and to discuss Scripture (also see Jn 10:23 and Acts 5:12).  In verses 12-26 Peter puts the miracle of healing the lame man in the context of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is Peter's 2nd kerygmatic discourse as he proclaims the Gospel to the Jewish crowd at the Jerusalem Temple.

St. Peter begins by putting the healing of the lame man in the proper perspective.  He tells the crowd that is was not their miracle by which the man was healed, but it was Jesus the Messiah who healed him.  Peter tells the crowd they should not be amazed.  The prophet Isaiah listed the lame among those to receive Messianic healing (Is 35:3, 5-6; Lk 7:22), and the lame are among the outcasts that Jesus said are to be invited to banquets (Lk 14:13, 21), and by extension are those to whom Jesus will extent the invitation to attend the eschatological banquet at the end of time (Acts 3:11-12).  Then in verse 13, Peter recalls God's words to Moses in the event of the burning bush in Exodus 3:15 when He told Moses how to explain His identity to the children of Israel: God spoke further to Moses, "Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD [Yahweh], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you."  It is the God of Israel who sent Moses to liberate the Israelites from the Egyptians who also sent His servant Jesus to liberate them from sin and death.  The use of the word "servant" in verse 13 identifies Jesus with the "Suffering Servant" prophecies of Isaiah (52:13-53:12).  This is the same Jesus that they denied and handed over to be crucified instead of the murderer Barabbas (Mt 27:20-23; Mk 15:11-15; Lk 23:18-25).

The words "Holy One" and "Righteous One" in verse 14 are titles of God (see Lev 11:44-45; Ps 78:41/77:41 LXX; 99:5/98:5 LXX; 103:1/102:1 LXX; Is 43:3; 49:7; etc.).  Jesus said no one is good/righteous but God (Lk 18:19).  Jesus is identified by the title "Holy One" by the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation in Luke 1:35, and the demon spirits who knew His true identity addressed Him as "holy one of God" (Lk 4:34).  In using these titles for Jesus, Peter identifies Jesus not as a human Messiah but as God.  He makes the same claim in the next verse when he calls Jesus the "author of life," making the contrast between the one who gives life (Jesus) and the murderer Barabbas who takes it away:  15 The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses. 
Despite his harsh assessment of the Jew's rejection of Jesus, Peter mercifully tempers that judgment by saying: 17 Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did ...  You may recall the first statement Jesus made from the Cross that expresses this same mercy to His Jewish kinsmen (Lk 23:34).  Jesus asked God the Father to forgive them because they didn't understand what they were doing.

Then in verses 18-19, Peter makes another reference to the suffering Servant prophecies of Isaiah 53, a teaching Jesus also gave to the Emmaus disciples in Luke 24:25-27, and to the other prophecies of the prophets fulfilled in Jesus, which Jesus taught His disciples in Luke 24:27, 44-47 and during the forty days before His Ascension.  Peter calls the crowd to repentance and conversion, which is a turning away from sin and a turning back to God, and to receive forgiveness for their sins.  Ignorance of Christ is no excuse, and therefore we, like those 1st century people, must repent, convert our hearts to Christ, and through Him be purified of our sins if we want to be a part of the universal restoration promised by the prophets (ie., Is 56:1-8).

Responsorial Psalms 4:2, 4, 7-9 ~ The Lord's Divine Security
The response is: "Lord, let your face shine on us." Or: "Alleluia."
2 When I call, answer me, O my just God, you who relieve me when I am in distress; have pity on me, and hear my prayer!
Response:
4 Know that the LORD does wonders for his faithful one; the LORD will hear me when I call upon him.
Response:
7 O LORD, let the light of your countenance shine upon us!  8 You put gladness into my heart.
Response:
9 As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep, for you alone, O LORD, bring security to my dwelling.
Response:

This psalm is attributed to David.  Verse 9 suggests it was an evening prayer that expressed the psalmists trust in God who hears his prayer when he calls upon the Lord and who protects him.  God, says the psalmist, is his one source of happiness (verse 8).  The climax of the poem in verse 9 is the joy, peace and sense of security that God gives the person who relies fully on Him and seeks him when times are difficult.  In those times, God gives a person inner peace.  The last words of the psalm in verse 8 are found in the nighttime prayer of the Divine Office.

The Second Reading 1 John 2:1-5 ~Knowing Christ
1 My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.  2 He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.  3 The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments.  4 Those who say, "I know him," but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them.  5 But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.

In this passage, St. John gives the two conditions that are necessary to "walk in the light" of Jesus Christ (1Jn 1:5-7).  The first condition is to break with sin (1 Jn 1:8-2:2) and the second is to keep the commandments (1 Jn 2:3-5).  We can have confidence if we do sin that Christ died so that our sins can be expiated, and not only does he offer atonement for our sins but atonement for the sins of the whole world.  Next John gives the second condition of walking in the light of Christ and that is through obedience to the commandments.  It is in living in obedience to the commandments that we can truly say we know Christ (verse 3).  Our knowledge of the commandments and our obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ becomes an exercise of faith that not only directs us on the path to salvation but also gives us an intimate knowledge of Christ and perfects God's love in us as children in the family of God. 

The Gospel of Luke 24:35-48 ~ Understanding the Scriptures
35 Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them [opened their eyes] in the breaking of the bread. 36 While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, 36 "Peace be with you."  37 But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.  38 Then he said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?  39 Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.  Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have."  40 And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  41 While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked the, "Have you anything here to eat?"  42 They gave him a piece of baked fish; 43 he took it and ate it in front of them.  44 He said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled."  45 Then he opened their minds to understanding the Scriptures.  46 And he said to them, "Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day 47 and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things.  [..] = literal translation (Interlinear Bible: Greek-English, vol. IV, page 244-245).

On Resurrection Sunday, Jesus Christ encountered two of His disciples, identified as the Cleopas and his son, on their journey home to the village of Emmaus that is sixty stadia (about seven miles) from Jerusalem.  However, their eyes were "bound" and they did not recognize Him.  On the way Jesus taught them how all of divine revelation in Sacred Scripture was fulfilled in Him. They invited Him to share a meal with them, and when He repeated His actions at the Last Supper, taking up the bread, blessing the bread and then breaking the bread (Lk 22:19), suddenly their eyes were "opened" and they recognized the Savior (Lk 24:30-32). 

They immediately did what all of us must do when we recognize Jesus in the midst of our lives; they wanted to share their experience of the Christ and quickly returned to Jerusalem to the Apostles in the Upper Room.  While they were relating their experience, Jesus appeared, offering them His "peace."  In the forty days from His Resurrection to His Ascension (Acts 1:3), Jesus will appear numerous times to share Himself and to teach His eleven Apostles, His men and women disciples, including a private revelation to St. Peter (Lk 24:34; 1 Cor 15:5) and His kinsman James, who was not an Apostle, and then to all the Apostles (1 Cor 15:7).  Sts. James and Simon son of Cleophas will become the first two Christian Bishop of Jerusalem; James is the inspired writer of the Letter of St. James.  Jesus also appeared to over 500 people at one time (1 Cor 15:6).

The Apostles were frightened and to reassure them that He was not a ghost, He encouraged them to touch His wounds and He asked for something to eat.  He did this to prove that He was the flesh and blood Jesus and not an imposter or an apparition.

44 He said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled." 
Jesus told them that divine revelation concerning the coming of Christ was contained in the Law of Moses (the Torah), in the books of the prophets and the palms; in other words in all of Sacred Scripture!  There are two significant points not to be missed in Jesus' statement concerning belief about Him concerning Sacred Scripture and especially the writings of the prophets:

  1. Belief in Jesus and His mission is connected to a proper understanding of the Scriptures.
  2. "All that the prophets spoke" implies that all of Scripture bears a prophetic and Messianic significance.

45 Then he opened their minds to understanding the Scriptures.
This was a reversal of the condition of Adam and Eve when their understanding was opened to sin in their fall from grace.  Jesus "opened" the Scriptures to His disciples in the same way that He brought about the "opening" of the eyes of the Emmaus disciples in the breaking of the bread in Luke 24:31.  Now mankind's eyes will continue to be opened to Christ in the breaking of the bread in the Eucharist and in understanding the truth of divine revelation in the Scriptures through the teachings Jesus Christ and His Church. 

You might ask, where is the teaching Jesus gave that day to His disciples and Apostles concerning the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture in His ministry and mission written down?
It was an oral teaching that passed from Jesus to the ministers of His Kingdom and is found in the writings of the New Testament letters, in the writings of the Fathers of the Church and in Church teaching.  It was to the ministers of His Church that Jesus gave the interpretation of Sacred Scripture.  As St. Peter wrote: Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of Scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the Holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God  (2 Pt 1:20-21). 

That is not to say individual believers cannot interpret Scripture; the Church encourages the reading and study of the sacred books and provides guidelines in the Catechism (CCC 109-119).  However, to insure a unity of interpretation guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church is the final authority for interpretation: "... For of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God" (CCC 119)

46 And he said to them, "Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day 47 and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things."  47 and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things.
Previously Jesus' mission had only been to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Mt 15:24) and the mission of His ministers was also limited to the Jews (Mt 10:6).  But the mission is different now and has been expanded. Universal power and kingship now belongs to the risen Jesus.  Therefore, He confers upon the eleven ministers of His Church a universal mission to teach the Gospel message of salvation and to baptize believers from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (see Is 66:18-24; Dan 7:13-14; Mt 28:19-20 and Mk 16:15-16).

Between Jesus' appearances to His disciples and Apostles on Resurrection Sunday and His Ascension to the Father, there is a forty day period in which Jesus continues to teach the Church, appearing and disappearing at will (Acts 1:3).  He will meet with them in the Galilee, as He told them at the Last Supper (Mt 26:32) and as the angel instructed them (Mt 28:7).  St. John's Gospel will give a lengthy account of that meeting (Jn 21:1-23).  After the Galilee, the disciples and Apostles will return to Jerusalem just before the pilgrim feast of Weeks, also known by the Greek title "Pentecost," which means "fifth day" (Lev 23:15-21; Acts 2:1).  It was what we would call a "holy day of obligation."   Pentecost was a "pilgrim feast" (Dt 16:16) that every man of the covenant was required to attend that was celebrated fifty days from the celebration of the Feast of Firstfruits (as the ancients counted without the concept of a zero place value) that was the day of Jesus' Resurrection.  And like the Feast of Firstfruits, Pentecost always fell on the first day of the week which we call "Sunday" (Lev 23:15-21; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 13.8.4 [252]).  Jesus will meet with them one final time before He leads them out to the Mt. of Olives and ascends to the Father ten days before the Jewish feast of Pentecost (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4-5). 

Catechism References:
Acts 3:13-14 (CCC 597); 3:13 (CCC 438, 601); 3:15 (CCC 612, 626, 632, 635); 6:17-18 (CCC 591, 600); 3:17 (CCC 597); 3:18 (CCC 601); 3:19 (CCC 674)
1 John 2:1-2 (CCC 1460); 2:1 (CCC 519, 692, 2634); 2:2 (CCC 605, 606)
Luke 24:36 (CCC 641, 645); 24:38 (CCC 644); 24:39 (CCC 644, 645, 999); 24:40 (CCC 645); 24:41-43 (CCC 645); 24:41 (CCC 644); 24:43 (CCC 2605); 24:44-48 (CCC 652); 24:44-46 (CCC 112); 24:44-45 (CCC 572, 601); 24:44 (CCC 702, 2625, 2763); 24:45 (CCC 108); 24:46 (CCC 627); 24:47-48 (CCC 730); 24:47 (CCC 981, 1120, 1122); 24:48-49 (CCC 1304)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015