15 April 2018

We are witnesses to these things!

3rd Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

The disciples are “startled and terrified.” They're troubled, “incredulous for joy” and amazed. What has them all discombobulated and witless? Days after his death and resurrection, Jesus appears among them – in the flesh – and says, “Peace be with you.” Believing that they are seeing a ghost, the disciples freak out! And Jesus asks them, “Why are you troubled?” Well, Jesus, maybe it's b/c you were scourged, nailed to a cross, stabbed in the chest with a spear, buried in a new tomb, and then disappeared after three days, leaving behind nothing but your burial clothes! Now you're walking around, showing us your fatal wounds, and talking to us as if nothing has happened. That's why were troubled! But Jesus seems genuinely confused by their reaction to him, so he asks, “. . .why do questions arise in your hearts?” See answer above: nails, cross, spear, tomb, missing body! Maybe a better question for us to consider is this: why is Jesus confused by his disciples' surprise? Why does he find it odd that they are frightened? After all, he taught them that he must suffer, die, and rise again to fulfill the law and the Prophets. Despite their dumbfounded surprise at his reappearance, the disciples are witnesses to all these things.

And so are we. No, we're not eyewitnesses in the same way that the disciples were. None of us here were there back then to see and hear the nails hammered into his hands and the spear pierce his side. BUT we are witnesses now to the salvation his death purchased for us. We are witnesses now to the mercy we've received b/c he freely chose to become the Lamb of God. We are witnesses now to the love that both the Father and the Son share with us in the Holy Spirit. We can speak about our lives as sinners and give testimony to being freed from sin and death through the waters of baptism. We can speak about the challenges and victories of growing in holiness. We can speak about the beauty of a life lived abundantly in God's grace. The truth we find in the Word and the Sacraments of the Church. The goodness we see in one another when we are at our best. And, yes, we can speak too about our failures; those times we have been less than truthful, those moments where we refuse to be charitable. We can even speak about our doubts, our questions, and our battles to remain faithful. Christian testimony is not propaganda bent toward making us Look Good to the world. Christian testimony is truth-telling. Not “my truth” or “your truth.” But The Truth!

This brings us back to the disciples and their odd reaction to Jesus' reappearance after so many days dead and gone. Jesus told them again and again that he had to suffer, die, and rise again to accomplish their salvation. He told them The Truth. Repeatedly. Their reaction to his reappearance tells us that they didn't believe him while he was with them. So, he returns – wounds and all – to show them. But notice – not only does he show them his wounds as evidence, “he open[s] their minds to understand the Scriptures.” He opens their minds to Scripture to show them that “everything written about [him] in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” In other words, he shows them the proof of fulfillment written on his body, carved into his flesh, and teaches them – again – that he is indeed the Messiah, the Holy One of God. We hear Peter preaching, “. . .God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer.” Suffer for what? For whom? For us! Therefore, “Repent. . .and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.” We can bear witness to this truth. 
As we move rapidly toward Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we can do a great deal of good by examining our witness to Christ's sacrifice. Ask yourself: do I live and speak in such a way that others can see and hear Christ in me? Do I live and speak in such a way that others see and hear the Father's abundant mercy in me? Am I an instrument of grace for others? An example? A model of righteousness? Or am I like the troubled disciples, surprised by Christ and too afraid to come out of hiding? Jesus says to his disciples back then and to us right now, “You are witnesses of these things.” Therefore, bear witness and allow God's love to be perfected in you!

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