THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 2, 14a.22-28
1 Pt 1, 17-21
Lk 24, 13-35
The Resurrection of the Lord is an experience of faith and communion (gospel), kerygmatic announcement (first reading) and praxis of life (second reading). This Sunday’s biblical readings offer us this triple perspective in order to deepen our faith in the Resurrection. To believe in the Risen Lord is to discover him present as life-giving Spirit in the midst of the community. It is announcing him as good news to all men and women, and above all to live according to the word of the Gospel of the Kingdom that he has inaugurated as new creation in his resurrection.
The first reading (Acts 2, 14a.22-28) is a fragment of the first great missionary discourse of Peter addressed to Israel. The discourse of the book of Acts are meant to help the reader to penetrate into the meaning of the events narrated and to discover their ultimate reason: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as saving event for all humanity. In the passage proclaimed today in the liturgy, it is easy to discover three parts: (a) Invitation to listen: “Men of Israel, listen” (v. 22a): (b) Exposition of the event: God has raised up Jesus the Nazarene (vv. 22b-24); (c) Testimony of the Scriptures: Psalm 16, 8-11 (vv. 25-28).
Peter begins by inviting to listen: “Men of Israel, listen” (v. 22a). In the biblical tradition, most of all in the deuteronomical theology, the invitation to listen introduced the great divine discourses (cf. Dt 4, 1; 5, 1; 6, 4; 9, 1; etc.). Peter, therefore, presents his discourse following the divine words which at other times Yahweh had addressed to Israel through Moses and the prophets. He addresses himself to all Israel, the recipient of the promises, and begins by presenting a synthesis of the public life of Jesus, “the Nazarene”.
The praxis of Jesus reveals the mystery of God and of his kingdom, since with his miracles and signs, he has inaugurated the time of salvation and has declared the liberating power of God (v. 22b). After having legitimised the divine dimension of the liberating actions of Jesus, Peter denounces the unjust death to which he was condemned precisely by the inhabitants of Jerusalem (You killed him, nailing him on the cross!), through the “impious” (literally: the “ánomos”, the “lawless”), that is, the Romans (v. 23). The accusation to the inhabitants of Jerusalem about the death of Jesus, however, does not have any tone of anti-Jewish polemic or of a condemnation of Israel. The famous biblical scholar Jacques Dupont comments on the matter: “The tone is that of the prophets of the Bible, not of a pagan anti-Semitism.”
The words of Peter are oriented to bring about the repentance of the people: to all Jews, the door of conversion is opened. The fact that the death of Jesus forms part of the divine plan does not exclude responsibility and therefore man’s guilt. God’s plan and human freedom are not annulled reciprocally. To the denouncement of the unjust death of Jesus in the hands of men, Peter adds the announcement of the work of God that liberated him from death: “God raised him to life, freeing him from death’s bitter pangs.” (v. 24) (In a famous Greek codex of the Acts of the Apostles –Western Text– “Hades” was used instead of “death”). In any case, the fundamental affirmation of the Christian kerygma is centred on the powerful intervention of God who raised Jesus from the dead.
Luke speaks of liberation from the “pangs of death” (ódines tou thánatos) in v. 24. The Greek work odin indicates labour pains, the pains that accompany childbirth (cf. Mt 24, 8; Mk 13, 8; 1 Thes 5, 3), which in later Jewish eschatology came to be a symbol of the coming of the end of history. The image of v. 24 is unique in the Bible, since normally it is God who gives life: death is represented as a woman who gives birth to Jesus, and the Resurrection as birth that occurs in the bosom of death. The latter was not able to hinder this “birth”, in the same way that a woman cannot keep in her womb the son who is about to be born. God put an end to “the pangs of death”, snatching Jesus away from its bowels: “it was impossible that death should keep its hold on him” (v. 24).
The central core of Peter’s discourse is the Resurrection of Christ, which according to an exegetical practice of the first Christian community is described using a biblical text: Psalm 16 (vv. 25-28). It is about a very beautiful song that expresses the joyful fidelity of the faithful and his certainty of salvation and complete happiness. Beyond the necessary intuition of the psalmist, Peter takes the psalm as emblem of the event of Christ’s resurrection. The images of the song (the contemplation of the divine face, the path of life, perfect joy, permanence at God’s right hand) acquire a messianic value and are applied to the Risen Christ. In this way the resurrection of the Lord is placed in continuation of the biblical hope and is inserted within the immense divine plan of salvation and of life for all.
The second reading (1 Pt 1, 17-21) is an invitation addressed to the Christians in order that they may live “with fear” – that is, inspired by faith and the commitment derived from it– during their sojourn in a strange land” (1 Pt 1, 17). Such exhortation is the logical consequence of the event of Christ’s resurrection that has freed the Christian from a useless and meaningless existence (v. 18: “idolatrous conduct”), by Christ’s blood, spotless, unblemished lamb […] God raised him from the dead […] your faith and hope, then, are centred in God.” (1 Pt 1, 19.21)
The gospel (Lk 24, 13-35) transmits to us today the most beautiful and unforgettable account of the disciples of Emmaus: the Risen Lord approached the two disciples on the way and remains with them, explaining the Scripture to them until the joyful moment of recognition. The narration is made up of two main scenes introduced by the same expression: (a) Lk 24, 15: “Now while they talked…” (kai egéneto en tô homilein autois...); (b) Lk 24, 30: “Now while he had seated himself with them at table…” (kai egéneto en tô kataklithenai auton...). Luke indicates the two essential moments of the Christian liturgy: the word and the sacrament, listening to the Scripture and liturgy of the Eucharist.
We present a commentary to the gospel text starting from some significant moments of the narration:
– The way and the closed eyes
The account presents the two disciples on the way, a biblical symbol used to indicate human existence. The life of all men and women is itinerancy and dynamism that cannot be stopped and the Bible reveals constantly that God sets out to meet man in order to accompany him and walk with him. In the text of Luke, it is the Risen Lord who takes the initiative to approach those men, desperate and lonely, revealing thus the gratuitousness of the encounter and Luke’s particular understanding of the resurrection. But it is not enough that Jesus is near in order to recognize him. The simple seeing with the eyes is not enough: “they were restrained from recognising him” (v. 16). The experience of the Risen Lord is an experience of faith that goes beyond simple physical perception. The eyes of the disciples will be able to see again only at the end, after the ear, the organ for hearing, has fulfilled its function. After “hearing” the Scriptures explained by Jesus, they will overcome their incapacity to recognize him.
– Jesus illumines the reality with the Bible
Jesus takes the initiative and begins to talk with the two disciples. “What are you discussing as you go your way?” (v. 17) Jesus listens to them. And from the reality of those two men, he then begins to explain the Bible to them so as to illumine them at the moment of sadness and failure that they are experiencing. The two disciples surely knew the Scriptures but they did not succeed to understand its deeper meaning. The Risen Jesus explains it to them. He explains the mystery of man and of God, of history, of the latest events that saddened and darkened their hearts: “Beginning then with Moses and the prophets, he interpreted for them every passage of Scripture which referred to him.” (v. 27) The Risen Lord becomes, for ever, the “exegete” par excellence of the Old Testament. Later these men will say: “Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (v. 32) The Scripture, read and meditated in the light of the Risen Lord, reveals the plan and the ways of God in history.
– Hospitality and sharing of bread: their eyes were opened
In the Bible, hospitality and welcome represent a value of primary importance. The insistence of Cleofas and his companion undoubtedly reflects the Oriental generous hospitality: “Stay with us. It is nearly evening.” (v. 29) In the Orient, hospitality is a characteristic of authentic man, of him who, filled joy, knows how to welcome anybody and to prepare for him a place in his home and in his heart. In the text of Luke, hospitality seems to be a condition in order to experience the presence of the Risen Lord, and the words of the invitation in v. 29 reminds of a true ecclesial invitation: “Stay with us!” The breaking of the bread follows the reception at home (v. 30) Sharing the same bread is more than hospitality. In the Bible, sharing at table is a transforming act: the guests become brothers. It is like a ceremony of covenant, of friendship, in which bread is placed in common as sign of all the goods. Luke, with the phrase: “he took bread and said the blessing; then he broke it…” (v. 30), is thinking of the Eucharist, the greatest event of communion between God and man and woman, and of men and women among themselves. Jesus has chosen the symbol of table and bread shared as sign of the gift of his life to man. This atmosphere of friendship and welcome, of faith and fraternity, is an indispensable condition in order to experience the Risen Lord: “Their eyes were opened” (v. 31).
– From Emmaus to Jerusalem
After recognizing the Risen Lord, they themselves have resurrected: now they are full of courage, not of fear; they return to Jerusalem and they do not continue running away. Faith has occupied the place of mistrust and incredulity. Now they return full of hope and they are bearers of the word of life: “They recounted what had happened on the road and how they had come to know him at the breaking of bread.” (v. 35) In the middle of the night, they do not hesitate to start their way back, full of joy and of life, to recount to the brothers their extraordinary experience.