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Third Sunday of Easter May 4, 2003. (Preaching Helps).

Acts 3:12-19

Psalm 4

I John 3:1-7

Luke 24:36b-48

If you want to know what the people are staring at and wondering about in the first reading you have to read from the beginning of chapter 3. A certain man, lame from birth, was a fixture at the temple gate named Beautiful. Friends carried him there daily to beg for alms. His twisted body marred the beauty of the site. However, people were accustomed to seeing him there. Some were accustomed to passing him by. Others were accustomed to tossing a few coins his way.

He called to Peter and John as they passed by, "Do you have something you can spare to help me?" He was thinking money. He got more than he bargained for. Peter responded, "Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand up and walk." And he stood up and walked. Isn't that beautiful? And he clung to Peter and John, the text tells us. He clung to them. Another beautiful sight. That's what attracted a crowd. That's what the people are staring at and wondering about in the first reading.

Peter also wonders. He wonders why they are doing that. But I'd like to know why Peter questions their stares and their wonder. Maybe it is the "at us" that Peter questions. They should stare and wonder, but not "at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made this man walk." Peter immediately points beyond himself and John to the very God these people have come to the temple to worship. This is not some strange and esoteric new religion. This is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of their ancestors. Peter further points to Jesus, the one whom God glorified by raising him from the dead. This is the one whose "name itself has made this man strong."

Peter points at the crowd as he makes the accusation, "You killed the Author of life." But then he points back to God saying, "God raised him from the dead. Furthermore, in this way God fulfilled the scriptures." And then he gets to the point for his hearers--what it means for them, what it points them to--"Repent therefore and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped Out."

Jesus is the point. Luke has been making this point since chapter 1, verse 1. Peter and company got the point. We hear about that in the Gospel reading. The risen Lord appeared to the disciples and opened their minds. Minds need opening. "Some are so closed-minded their ears touch" was the saying of a favorite teacher of mine. But the gospel does not come naturally to any of us. We must hear it, and those of us called must preach it. Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, to understand that he is the point of the law, the prophets, and the psalms. This was his same mission on the Emmaus road. On the road and at supper he opened the Scriptures to them and opened their eyes to see what he was opening to them. The Scriptures point to him and are understood through him.

He makes clear that such understanding and fulfillment are through him precisely as the crucified and risen Messiah. Look at my hands and feet, he says. They didn't see those telltale marks on the Emmaus road or at the Emmaus supper table. He makes sure that they see them now. And he is not some apparition, as they first fear. Ghosts don't eat leftovers from the dinner table. This is a real body, Jesus' real body, that they recognize.

There is continuity and discontinuity in the resurrected body, as there will be in our resurrected bodies as well. Description defies our language, for our language is part and parcel of the reality it describes, a reality bounded by sin and death. Jesus' resurrection speaks of a whole new realm where the boundaries of sin and death are no more. Reading the endings of the Gospels, we can hear the writers strain for the language to describe what they have seen or what has been reported to them.

Jesus' body is the same. It bears the scars of the crucifixion. They recognize his features. He eats and drinks. Yet there is a difference. The resurrected Jesus appears out of thin air. He comes through locked doors, as in John's Gospel. Disciples don't always recognize him. There is continuity and discontinuity. Paul says in 1 Cor 15:44, "It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body." The discontinuity comes in the transition from physical to spiritual in the resurrection. But after the resurrection it is still a body.

Luke says that at first the disciples were disbelieving and wondering in their joy. Luke also said that they fell asleep in the garden of Gethsemane because of their grief. The resurrected Jesus goes to work on these joyfully disbelieving and wondering ones to open their minds to understand the Scripture. He works on them much the same way he worked on Thomas and the other disciples in John's Gospel. The two accounts have many similarities. Finally, he authorizes them to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations beginning from Jerusalem. That is the beginning Peter and John are making in the first reading for this day.
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Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Words:915
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