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His Holiness, Pope Francis
EASTER SUNDAY 2014
HE SAW AND HE BELIEVED (JN 20:8)
The accounts of the resurrection are amazingly sparse. Today’s Gospel reading is one of the briefest of all. What did the Beloved Disciple see and what did he believe? (Jn 20:1-9). Mary of Magdala, who, finding the stone rolled away from the tomb, had gone running to contact Peter and the Beloved Disciple and told them that the body of Jesus was taken, with no further details. These two apostles then went running to the tomb. Running like that suggests that all of them must have been young and fit! The Beloved Disciple, who had already seen the inside details from outside the tomb, went inside after Peter, and seeing all that Peter had seen he ‘believed’. But what did he believe? And why did he believe? Happily today’s reading from Acts 10:34.37-43 fills out the picture for us. The author of Acts presents Peter addressing the new actual and potential converts, evangelizing these first non Jews .
Peter gives them the essentials of the public life of Jesus and his meaning for all mankind. The disciples and John the Baptist were an integral part of the story. In Peter’s speech he describes Jesus as one already anointed by God with power, ‘who went about doing good’. He enumerates some factors in ‘doing good’ such as curing the sick and the expulsion of demons. How could a person ‘doing good’ have ended his life so dreadfully? Peter publicly and unashamedly says this person was hanged on a tree. This should have destroyed in advance any justification of the alleged goodness of Jesus. Why should such a good person have been so cruelly killed by other presumably ‘good’ people? All this had to be explained as integral to the resurrection event. Peter must surely have continued in detail the extraordinary history behind his resurrection message. With the resurrection something had happened to Jesus personally despite his death in agony. His work had seemed to be in utter ruins. The evil people who connived at his death seemed to have gained everything. They had reversed the brief marvellous effect he had had in his public life to 'business as usual' in their own control. What then of the voice once sounded for the poor and the hopeless? What of the healed man whose sins had been forgiven in the synagogue at Nazareth on the sabbath day? Were all the recipients of Jesus' care and concern somehow cheated? Had this just all been a short-term outing, a promise for a future that could not be fulfilled? The prophet from Nazareth seemingly was not who he said he was. But Peter provided the details. Jesus had breathed the mountain air of freedom. The initial programme had been set out that first day in Nazareth, in the words of Is 61:1-2: good news for the poor, relief for the captives, liberty for the oppressed, sight for the blind. To remove fear from human hearts, to open up relationships in truth and love, to overcome the distance that egoism and injustice had generated between human beings. And this was seen in the final dreadful treatment of Jesus himself. But with his risen presence, truth, goodness, and love remain a living experience because of the lives of all those who put their faith in him.
St.Paul Col 3:1-4
Our second reading at today’s Mass is from Colossians. The author spells out the meaning of the resurrection for another convert community. Their lives have changed because of their belief in Jesus. The empowerment they received from him makes it possible for them to live moral lives, and to relate with others in the way that Christ did. Their lives are hidden with Christ in God. What this meant in practice is beautifully set out later in The Epistle to Diog-netus, (Nn. 5-6; Funk, 397-401, second century AD):
"Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.
They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.
To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world.” This could be a true description of many Christian experiences in different parts of the world today.
The evangelization Pope Francis keeps talking about finds itself excellently attested in these texts. We really are on the shoulders of giants!
A happy Easter to you all. Amen.
Rev Richard Taylor