A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for April 22, 2012, the Third Sunday of Easter | Carl E. Olson
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Ps 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9
1 Jn 2:1-5a
Yet still I hear Thee knocking, still I hear:
Open to Me, look on Me eye to eye,
That I may wring your heart and make it whole
In those lines, from her sonnet titled St. Peter, the poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) expressed with vivid simplicity the love of Jesus for his head disciple. The impulsive and rash fisherman had denied his Master three times on the eve of the Crucifixion. How dark that night must have been and how hot the tears burning his cheeks after the cock crowed (cf. Jn 18:25-27). Peter, who had recognized and proclaimed before the other disciples that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, had crumbled in the face of evil and adversity.
How remarkable, then, that Peter, just a few weeks afterwards, said to the people, You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. In todays reading from Acts of the Apostles he twice refers to the peoples denial and desired destruction of Jesus, and exhorts them to look anew at the face of the Holy One: Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.
This might seem, at first glance, rather callous and even hypocritical on the part of Peter. But we mustnt overlook this statement, purposefully made between the accusation of denial and the exhortation to repentance: Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did This is not meant to excuse what had been done, but to insist on two basic facts without which conversion is impossible: without a true encounter with Christ, man is doomed to sit in the darkness of sin and despair; and God has, in his mercy and love, rendered salvation and light with the twisted lines of mans rebellion: but God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand
Prior to the arrest and death of Jesus, Peter had correctly declared, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. But his recognition of Jesus was still lacking, for he soon rebuked the Messiah for saying he would be arrested and crucified (Mt. 16:16-23). Peters right recognition was from the heavenly Father, but his rebuke came from earthly fear. And he did not fully recognize Jesus or overcome his fear until after the Resurrection; without the light of Easter, his eyes would have remained closed, his heart perpetually quivering.
This same pattern of transformation is seen in todays Gospel. Two unnamed disciples who had encountered the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus were telling their story to the other disciples, recounting how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread, that is, the Eucharist. Jesus suddenly appeared to them, telling his frightened followers, Touch me and see.
St. Cyril of Alexandria noted how Jesus, in directly addressing their fear, showed he truly was the same one whom they saw suffering death upon the cross and laid in the tomb, even the one who sees mind and heart and from whom nothing that is in us is hid. He gives this to them as a sign: his knowledge of the tumult of thoughts that was within them. In revealing their fears, Jesus revealed himself; by having them touch his wounds, his wounds healed them of doubt and dread.
We can only begin to really know someone when they freely reveal themselves to us and we, in return, open our hearts to them. Easter is a season of transforming encounter, a time of joyfully recognizing who Jesus Christ is: the Risen Lord, the Holy and Righteous One. He makes himself known to us in the breaking of the bread, the gift of his body, blood, soul, and divinity. In the words of Rossetti:
"And teach thee love because I hold thee dear
And sup with thee in gladness soul with soul,
And sup with thee in glory by and by.
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the April 26, 2009, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)