Acts 2:14,22-28, 1 Peter 1:17-21, Luke 24:13-35
On the Epistle: Our Time of Exile
An American tourist goes to see the famous Polish rabbi Hofetz Chaim. He enters the rabbi’s house and is astonished to see that the rabbi lives in a simple room filled with books, a table and a bench. He asks him, “Rabbi, where is your furniture?”
“And you, where is yours?” replies the rabbi.
“Mine?” asks the puzzled tourist. “But I’m only a visitor here. I’m only passing through.”
And the rabbi replies, “So am I.”
Today’s second reading, taken from the 1st Letter of Peter, is addressed to Jewish Christians who were dispersed in Gentile lands on account of persecution. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). Peter is writing to encourage these Christians to be steadfast in the faith and to advise them on how to conduct themselves during the time of their exile. Peter’s message, however, is not for Jewish Christians alone. It is for all Christians since, as Peter says, all Christians are in exile in so far as they still live in this world.
The text opens with Peter reminding his readers of one cardinal point of the Christian faith and the implication this should have in their daily lives. “If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile” (1 Peter 1:17). Faith and daily life are two sides of the same coin. Faith that does not affect life is useless, and life that does not follow from faith is futile. Peter reminds the exiles that since they invoke God as the Father of all humankind, who judges all people not according to their nationality, not according to their wealth, not according to their learning or social status, not even according to their religion, but according to their deeds, then they should put their feeling of religious superiority aside and live in reverent fear and humility together with the Gentiles among whom they have settled. The same message applies to all Christians because, spiritually speaking, our life on earth is an exile. The God we worship is a merciful Father, but also an impartial judge. We should, therefore, live our lives in referent fear of God, the kind of fear you have for people you really love and respect that makes you not want to offend them. Reverential fear is different from servile file, which is the fear of being caught and punished, like the fear that slaves have for their abusive masters.
Does this advice for Christians to accept people of other faiths, cultures and societies mean that there is no difference between Christians and non-Christians. By no means! Peter proceeds immediately to remind his Christian readers of the special grace they have received from God.
You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish (verses 18-19).
Unlike their ancestors, who used perishable things like silver or gold or the blood of a lamb to make atonement for their sins, Christians have been ransomed by the precious blood of Christ, the son of God. God raised him from the dead and glorified him. For this we can trust in God and set our hope in Him and not in length of life or abundance of worldly comfort and possessions. “Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God” (Verse 21).
As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, the Church today invites us, through the words of Peter, to go beyond mere belief, to let our belief affect our lives. Specifically we are invited to realise the fact that we are pilgrims on earth, that our real home is in heaven with God our Father, and that that is where we should lay up our treasures and not on earth.
On the Gospel: Meeting Jesus in the Stranger
Two depressed disciples leave the company of the apostles and believers in Jerusalem and head for Emmaus to get away from it all. That same day, late in the evening, they come right back to rejoin the company of apostles and believers that they had abandoned earlier in the day, full of joy and zeal. What happened to them to give rise to this dramatic turnaround? They met a stranger on the way, a stranger who did not quite look like Jesus but who turned out to be Jesus after all.
Never speak to strangers! is one of the earliest words of wisdom that parents pass on to their children. And yet when you come to think of it, had Cleopas and his companion followed this advice, Jesus would have passed them by and they would never have had the transforming encounter with the risen Lord. Who knows how many times the risen Lord has passed you and me by and we did not recognize him or experience his transforming grace all because of our fear for strangers?
Cleopas and his friend were trying to distance themselves from the scandalous disaster that befell the apostles and followers of Jesus with the shameful death of their Master at the hands of the very Roman soldiers that they thought he had come to vanquish. But even as they tried to get away from it, they could not get their minds off it. They were talking about it all along the way. Could you imagine the sort of mood they were in as they headed for an unknown future in Emmaus? It was disappointment, sadness and deep depression all at once.
Suddenly a stranger catches up with them along the way and says to them What are you discussing with each other while you walk along? (Luke 24:17). The most natural answer you would expect from them would be, Hey man, would you please mind your business? That is the typical response you get from people who operate on the principle of fear of strangers. But Cleopas and his friend were different. All they said was, Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days? (verse 18). What things? asked the stranger. And this led to a frank and profound dialogue that set their cold hearts aflame with insight and inspiration. All because they trusted a stranger and were disposed to inform and be informed by him!
Cleopas and his companion shared with the stranger all the way through. Not only were they ready to share their confidences with him, but they went all the way and shared their meal and shelter with him. It was in the process of this sharing that the moment of disclosure occurred and they suddenly realised that the one whom they had accepted all along as a helpless stranger was indeed Jesus, the answer to all their hearts’ questions. This discovery that the one in whom they had trusted, Jesus Christ, was indeed alive and not dead, gave new meaning to their lives, their faith and their vocation. Banishing all fear and fatigue they got up and went back that same night to rejoin the company of apostles and followers of Jesus and share the good news with them that they had met the risen Lord and that they met him in the person of a stranger.
The resurrection was for Jesus the dividing line between earthly life when he was limited to the form of a male, Jewish body and risen life when he is no longer limited in this way. The risen Lord now appears in all types of bodies: male and female, White and Black, young and old, rich and poor, handicapped and non-handicapped, native and immigrant, Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Moslem, liberal and conservative, and so on and so forth. Though we may see those who are different from us as strangers, today’s gospel challenges us to start seeing them simply as companions on the way. When we reach out to them in hospitality we reach out to God and attract a blessing to ourselves.
Let us pray today for the grace to overcome the crippling fear of strangers, for the courage to reach out with open hearts and open hands to those who are different from us, knowing that even though the strangers on our way may not look like Jesus, they may indeed turn out to be Jesus just like the lonely stranger on the way to Emmaus.