It happens to everybody at some point. You do someone a good turn, and you get in big trouble for it. Today, we hear Peter defending himself before the guardians of orthodoxy. Poor Peter is accused of healing a crippled beggar in the name of Jesus. (See the whole account in Acts 3-4.) As the story goes, Peter's responses culminate with the question of choosing whether to obey God or men, even -- or especially -- when the men claim the sanction of religious authority.
"We have an advocate with the Father" (1 John 2:1). What is John telling us? That the reign of God is like a courtroom where we're lucky enough to have Jesus as the lawyer who'll get the divine judge to let us off easy? That's a rough description of one widely held understanding of this reading and a general theory of salvation. But is it the only interpretation?
In the sacred texts for today, we are reacquainted with the earliest believers in Jesus. We are invited to see and appreciate the impact of the risen Jesus on their lives. Because of Jesus, as Luke tells us in Acts, the believers were of one heart and mind. They shared all they had; there was no need to which they did not tend. Graced by God, they bore powerful witness to their risen Lord.
When asked to describe the mystery of Easter, author Carl Knudsen responded with the following story. Years ago, an old municipal lamplighter, engaged in putting out the street lamps one by one, was met by a reporter who asked him if he ever grew weary of his work. After all, it was a lonely job and the night was cold and damp.
"Never am I cheerless," said the old man, "for there is always a light ahead of me to lead me on."
The late Rudolph Bultmann often remarked, "A Gospel is simply a Passion/Resurrection narrative with a dozen or more introductory chapters." That means today's Gospel pericope is the first part of the most important passage in Mark's Gospel. Yet, because of this particular day's ceremonies and time limits, we rarely hear a homily of any suitable length on it. And when we actually think about Jesus' suffering and death, we're frequently reflecting on the 14 Stations of the Cross, not on the four Gospel Passion narratives.
This coming week, we will mark the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero. His life offers a key to understanding the readings of this last "ordinary" Sunday of Lent. According to those who knew him, Romero was always a faithful priest and bishop, totally dedicated to being a pastor and servant of God. His area of growth in holiness, like ours, was to amplify his perspective, to understand with the heart of God. Before speaking more of him, we turn to today's Scripture.
Our readings for this Fourth Sunday of Lent make us privy to the slow development of the Christian understanding of salvation. We begin with a reading from 2 Chronicles that sums up much of Old Testament salvation history: God gives the people good things, the people sin and are punished, God saves them again -- and the pattern repeats itself.
On this Third Sunday of Lent, the ancient authors set before the praying assembly two of the most important institutions in Jewish life, the law (Exodus) and the temple (John). By their faithful observance of the law, the Jews were sincerely surrendering themselves to God's will, which, they believed, was expressed in the law. By their reverence for the temple, its liturgy, its feasts and sacrificial system, the Jews were expressing their gratitude for the presence of God among them.
On April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn. He shared with those present an imaginative view of the whole of human history up to that point in time. King spoke of ancient Rome and Greece and their philosophies, of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and he concluded that he was happy to be living in the United States in the late 1960s.
I was once part of a faculty committee charged with rewriting the mission statement of our high school. Except for changing one preposition, I contributed little to the project. Where the original document stated that one of our school's main goals was to "convey faith in Jesus," I was able to convince the committee to change that statement to read "convey the faith of Jesus."