Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter - April 22, 2012
By Deacon Rick Fisher
"We really are his witnesses and our task is to bring Christ’s message to all we meet."
It couldn’t have been very easy for the disciples after the resurrection. They must have been very confused. It is one thing to talk about the resurrection in theory, but to actually experience someone rising from the dead must have been very bewildering.
However, Jesus appears to them in different situations and explains what has happened in very simple terms, just as he does in today’s extract from St Luke’s Gospel. The disciples are undergoing a learning process. And in any learning process confusion is an essential element.
Just look at how any small child learns something new. The child performs all kinds of experiments and is often very confused until, after repeated attempts and explanations by the parent, it all suddenly dawns on the child who in a moment of insight suddenly makes complete sense of the task at hand.
Go back to your own learning experiences. How long did it really take you to learn to ride a bicycle? Once you learned it was simple ... and when you watched someone else try to learn you wonder why it takes him or her so long. You actually laugh when you see them fall ... and yet, did you not do likewise?
Actually, as we grow older we learn less and less. Sadly we lose the skills of learning and we often avoid situations where we might be on unfamiliar territory. We frequently chose to avoid learning something new. By doing this we can close off whole areas of new experiences. Such an attitude can also make coping with the necessary adjustments of retirement or physical decline quite difficult.
The disciples were just like us, they were slow learners, and they found Jesus’ new ideas difficult to cope with even while he was still with them. But then they went through the awful circumstances of his death and must have been cast into in the depths of depression. And as part of the shock of all this I’m sure everything that he ever taught them went right out of their heads.
For Jesus then to keep popping up here and there must have been extraordinarily confusing at first. He didn’t appear in his risen body and stay with them and allow them to get used to the fact. No, he appeared here and there and then eight days later somewhere else. And these appearances were very brief; there was no time to come to terms with what was happening.
But each time Jesus explained things to them in very simple terms just as he did in today’s text: “This is what I meant when I said, when I was still with you, that everything written about me in the scriptures has to be fulfilled.”
By eating the piece of fish Jesus reassures the disciples of the reality of his bodily presence. No ghost can eat and by eating he demonstrated the simple fact of his bodily resurrection.
In these ways Jesus led them by the hand through the confusing stages of this great learning process. And on the Day of Pentecost the disciples experienced their “Eureka moment” and rush out into the street explaining to everyone else what had happened. And as witnesses they had remarkable success.
We too are slow learners. Actually, many of us are Catholics out of habit rather than out of conviction. We come to Mass, we say our prayers, we act in a moral way and we do our best to pass these values on to our children. But we go no further.
Yet the final words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are intended for us just as much as they were intended for the disciples: “You are witnesses to this.”
Each one of us has to make the transition from being what you might call “a passive Catholic” to becoming “an active Catholic.” We have to move beyond habit and become witnesses.
The witness has seen and heard and experienced the events to which he gives testimony. The witness speaks with authority and he speaks the truth. And as a result the witness is believable that’s surely why the apostles were so effective on the Day of Pentecost.
We might be slow learners but this is no complicated bicycle that we have to master. What we have to do is simply realize that God has chosen us for this particular task - to be his witnesses. Then we have to give testimony.
And you might say: What do I know? How can I give witness? I know nothing? But you would be wrong. You know a great deal.
You know about Jesus. You know his life story. And more importantly, you know that he died and rose again. And you know why he did this? He did this in order to free us from our sins and open up for us the way to everlasting life. He did it out of love.
And you know what we must do. We must love one another and we must stop sinning so that, in the words of St John, God’s love comes to perfection in us.
These things are not complicated; we know them already. The lesson has been learned and we are no longer confused. Now we understand that we really are his witnesses and that our task is to bring Christ’s message to all we meet.
But this does not mean that we have to go round knocking on doors or standing on the street corner blasting the Gospel at those who pass by. I don’t think so.
St. Francis of Assisi had it right when he said: “Preach the gospel at all times . . . and when necessary, use words.”