Some of the readings we hear at Mass are simple and straightforward. Other times, the readings are complex and more difficult to understand. My experience is that the readings that are most difficult understand and to preach on are the ones that occur on the third Sunday of the month (the weekend the deacons in our parish preach!).
Today’s readings are complex with lots of theological and scriptural nuances. As I reflected on today’s readings and worked on my homily, I was reminded of one of our parishioners who gave a witness talk not too long ago.
The parishioner was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. as a young man to better his life. In time, he became a naturalized citizen, got married and began to raise a family. As he began his witness talk, the man apologized if it was difficult to understand his English. His English was fine (and was much better than my Spanish ever will be). But to overcome any potential language barriers, he instructed the audience: “Don’t get lost in my words, but hear my message.”
I think that is sound advice for listening and reflecting on Scripture: Don’t get hung up on the language, the theology, the historical references – listen with your heart to the message God wants to share.
We hear some encouraging messages in today’s readings. In our First Reading, we hear Peter tell the people to repent and be converted, and your sins will be wiped away. This must have been very encouraging to a group of people who turned their back on Jesus and denied him, who asked that a murderer (Barabbas) be released from prison instead of Jesus, and who demanded that “the author of life” be put to death. These are grievous acts. But Peter gives the people a message of hope.
Peter comforts the people by reminding them that they acted out of ignorance (just as their leaders did) and that what happened had to happen to fulfill God’s plan. The remedy for these transgressions, Peter tells the people, is to repent and be converted.
Peter’s call to repentance and conversion does two things. First, it wipes away the peoples’ sins, allowing them to put the past behind them. Second, it serves as a call to action, giving the people direction to move forward with a holy purpose. To Peter and the Apostles, we are not called to be passive in our faith (to merely be listeners of the Word). We are called to a very specific response – to live and share our faith.
In living our faith we are not expected to be perfect, but we are expected to make progress. And when we slip up and sin, Saint John in our Second Reading reminds us that we have an advocate with the Father, “Jesus Christ the righteous one” who intercedes for us and who has made amends for our sins.
There was no reason for the people to be trapped in the past. And there is no reason for us to be trapped by our sins as well. Repent, beg forgiveness and move forward with a holy purpose.
In our Gospel reading, we hear some of the final words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. These are some of the final words Jesus speaks to his friends before his Ascension, so you know that these words are spoken with great love:
- “Peace be with you” – let you heart be at peace
- “Don’t be troubled” – I am with you always
- “Don’t let your hearts be filled with questions. – have faith in me
- “Listen to me with open minds” – I will show you the way
Jesus also provides a message that challenges. He tells his friends that as witnesses to his suffering, death and resurrection, they are to go be witnesses to all the nations, preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
“Go” is such a powerful word in this discourse. These are the words Jesus gives to his Church, direction all of us to evangelize and be a witness in the world. Jesus’ instructions demand action.
In gospel terms, a witness is not someone who just knows the facts or who was present for a particular event. In gospel terms, a witness is one who can give personal testimony and share what they have heard, what they have seen, and what they have experienced. Witnessing to the Gospel (the Good News) calls us to a very specific response to how we live our lives:
- It calls us … to have an open mind and open heart to receive the Word of God – and be willing to reach out to share that truth
- It calls us … to be willing to keep God’s commandments – the greatest of which are to love God and to love our neighbor
- It calls us … to lead our lives as a living example of Christ
I encourage you to reflect on these thoughts this week:
- How does Jesus appear to us in this day and age?
- Who are the people who witness to Jesus in our lives?
- How can each of us be a living witness to our Catholic faith?
There are four messages from today’s readings that I hope will inspire us all:
- Turn our hearts to God – let go and let God be the center of our lives
- Trust in God as an advocate and healer – lean on God and his mercy
- Live in peace – know the peace of Christ and share it with others
- Be an active witness to Christ’s love – “You may be the only Gospel some people will ever read”
And as we approach the altar today in Eucharist, let us recall how the first disciples knew the resurrected Jesus in the breaking of the bread. May our hearts be on fire with a renewed commitment to take the Lord’s message and share it with all the world.
You are loved!