A Reflection on the Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2023
Once again, our first reading this week comes from St. Luke’s: “The Acts of the Apostles” rather than from the Old Testament, as is the case on most Sundays. As mentioned before, the reason for this is that in the Easter Season, we are celebrating the birth and development of the church in the first century, so we are not looking for a “golden thread” that ties the Old Testament to the gospel. “Acts” recounts the development of the church in the Jewish community, and the missionary journeys of St. Paul show the extension of the church to the Gentiles as well. And, as St. Luke presents this to us, we see that God’s divine plan of salvation was to encompass all humanity. Luke’s guiding principle for the development and spread of the early Christian community is the Holy Spirit, which leads the church from a Jewish-based community at the beginning to a community embracing Gentiles.
Our reading from Acts comes from “Peter’s Speech at Pentecost,” immediately after the apostles had received the gift of the Holy Spirit in the upper room in the form of “tongues as of fire” which rested upon them. Fire is significant here as fire, in the Old Testament, represents the presence of God, as in Exodus 3 when God spoke to Moses from a burning bush and Exodus 19 when God came forth upon Mt. Sinai in fire. The gift of the spirit enabled the apostles to speak in different tongues “as the spirit enabled them to proclaim.” We often associate “tongues” as unintelligible utterances of the Holy Spirit, but in this case, “tongues” seems to refer to foreign languages so that all the inhabitants of Jerusalem could understand the message proclaimed by the apostles.
An important point in this reading occurs when Peter quotes Psalm 16, which he attributes to King David. A cursory reading of this Psalm would indicate that David was speaking of himself: that David would not be abandoned to the netherworld and his body would not see corruption. But Peter points out that David did die, and his tomb is “in our presence.”
Therefore, Peter points out that this is a prophecy of David concerning the descendent of David whom God promised would sit on David’s throne and who would not see corruption (see 2 Sm 7). The descendant prophesied here is Jesus the Nazorean, “who you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.” “But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death.” And through that Resurrection, God poured forth the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, “as you both see and hear.”
Our second reading is Peter’s exhortation to the early community. If you call God your father, then it is incumbent upon you to conduct yourselves with reverence during your earthly life. It is not enough to call God your father, as Jesus reminds us in Mt. 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
Our gospel passage this week is Luke’s account of the first Resurrection appearance of Jesus and it happens on the road to Emmaus. Two disciples on the way to Emmaus were joined by Jesus, “but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” That Jesus was unrecognizable to them should tell us that it takes eyes of faith to see Jesus, not just physical sight. Then the scriptures were opened to them by Jesus (as in our church), and their hearts burned within them. Then they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, as we do in the Eucharistic celebration of the Holy Mass.
“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.” There are many such scriptures that Jesus could have opened to them, but here is a small sampling:
Isiah 52:13 to 53:12: Too much to detail here, but I suggest you read this as it is a perfect description of what Christ suffered for us as the “Suffering and Triumph of the Servant of the Lord.”
Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” “Scorned by everyone, despised by the people.” “You relied on the Lord, let him deliver you.” “They divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots.”
Zec 9:9: “See, your king shall come to you; … Meek and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.”
Dt 18:15: Moses declared: “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from your own kinsmen; to him you shall listen.”
It is through the church that the scriptures are opened to us and that our eyes of faith are opened to recognize Jesus in the sacraments he instituted for the forgiveness of our sins. It is a faith founded on the Resurrection of Christ that binds us into a true community of faith exemplified by The Acts of the Apostles.
Author: Ric Cross