At the end of our first lesson today, St. Luke describes how that first Christian community lived and what was happening to them. He says, "The church was at peace and was built up throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria with eyes turned to God and the church lived, filled with comfort from the Holy Spirit." In a couple of other places in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke describes how that early Christian community was at peace.
The Peace Pulpit
As we listen to today's scripture lessons, one of the most important parts for us to reflect upon is the part where Peter is standing before the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders of God's people, and declares to them, "You and all the people of Israel must know that this cripple stands before you, cured through the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. You had him crucified yet God raised him from the dead. So Jesus is the stone rejected by you, the builders. This stone has become the cornerstone."
I'm sure sometimes people wonder, why do I do that? Because, after all, they have prepared over a period of time and they're dressed up in their confirmation robes and everybody's here to celebrate with them, and so why would I ask the question, "Do you want to be confirmed?" Well, the reason I do -- and this is important for the candidates especially, but for all of us because we can remember our own confirmation and what it means.
It's really amazing how appropriate these readings are for what we're celebrating today. The account in the Gospel, as you know, is the first Easter Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead. If you remember last Sunday's Gospel, the day of Easter, John is the same Gospel writer who told us how early in the morning, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and was worried about the stone being moved away. It was gone, and she discovered that the tomb was empty. She was terrified.
In the past, I used to think about the Resurrection -- and perhaps many of you did, too -- as a very important proof about Jesus. He had claimed to be the Son of God, and so the Resurrection proves that He really is who He says He is -- the Son of God, not just son of Mary and Joseph. That, of course, is an important part of the Resurrection, yet if you listen to today’s Gospel, those disciples at the beginning did not see it that way.
With our solemn procession, carrying our palm branches, we have begun the most important, most sacred, most holy week of our church year, and we have listened to the full account of the sufferings and death of Jesus. During this week, we are invited now to enter into the experiences of Jesus, to hear more deeply perhaps than ever before the words of Jesus, because this is the week when we can once more undergo the profound transformation that God calls us to as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Last Sunday, you may remember we heard that short Gospel lesson from St. John that is so widely known, the 16th verse of the third chapter, John 3:16. The verse was, "God so loved the world that God sent God's only Son, and the Son so loved us that he gave himself for our salvation." When we heard those words last Sunday, perhaps they did not bring about within us an understanding of the price that Jesus paid. It sounds so simple in a way, "God so loved the world that God sent Jesus, and Jesus so loved us that he gave himself for us."
As we listen to the lessons today, it seems to me that what might be a very important question for us to reflect on and to draw more deeply from the lessons is the question, "What happens when we don't listen to God's prophets?" God, as you probably know, continues to speak to every one of us so that in some way we can surface God's will in our lives, and the normal way that God does that is through the prophets. This is so clear in the Hebrew Scriptures and in that first lesson of today.
Editor's note: Because Bishop Thomas Gumbleton was traveling last week, his homily for March 11 was late coming to NCR.
Sometimes when we celebrate the special Peace Mass, if you will, on occasion when we've been reflecting on the way that Jesus teaches us to bring peace into our hearts, lives and worlds, we want to choose certain lessons that we think might express that. Well, these are the lessons that were already assigned for this Sunday, and it's been my experience very often that if you go to the lesson of the day, you find lessons that God wants you to hear rather than you choosing certain lessons that you think God wants you to hear.
The lessons today fit in very well with what we've been doing all day, trying to listen to God as God leads us into the ways of peace. As we heard the first lesson, it might not seem at first like one that would be easy to accept as a way toward peace. In fact, it's a very puzzling and difficult incident. What kind of a God would tell a father to sacrifice his son? What kind of a God would almost torture Abraham by putting him to this test which is beyond understanding?