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3rd Sunday of Easter (15.04.18)
A Peaceful Confrontation
The title almost sounds a contradiction! The experience of recent decades has accustomed us to link confrontation with militant hostility. It need not be so. From the moment of his Resurrection, Jesus engaged in a seemingly continuous peaceful confrontation with the dysfunctional remnant of his apostolic college. The process of encouraging people to ‘face the facts’ sometimes demands tough love.
In his post-Resurrection appearances, Jesus’ salutation was invariably “Peace with you”. It was not a conventional phrase, as we might use in liturgy today. Jesus was confronting the Evil of fear and foreboding that had paralysed his chosen collaborators following his Passion, Crucifixion and Death. We need to interpret Jesus’ greeting - “Peace with you” – as we interpret his response to Peter’s exclamation when Jesus had foretold of his coming Passion and Death. Peter had said: “This (meaning Jesus’ Passion) must not happen to you, Lord!”. On that occasion, too, Jesus was forthright – “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt.16:23)
People are not always aware or, if aware, are insufficiently alert to the subtle encroachment of the opportunistic paralysing fear Satan can manipulate. When our reservoir of sustaining grace is at a low ebb because our participation in Mass, Sacramental life and prayer has fagged, then we place ourselves at risk.
The first Readings for post Easter Sundays come largely from ‘The Acts of the Apostles’. They relate, as their title suggests, the ‘missionary’ activity of Jesus’ chosen eleven remaining Apostles. It is important for us to note that, originally, in the seven-week period we call Easter to Pentecost, the Apostles and disciples were in hiding. They had succumbed to Satan’s capitalizing on their fear and apprehension at his ability to engineer Jesus’ suffering and death by Crucifixion. They had lost sight of Jesus’ prophecy of Resurrection. In their three years of apostolic formation, as they accompanied their Lord on his missionary journeys, the Apostles had witnessed the countless occasions when Jesus had driven Satan out of peoples’ paralysed lives. Could it be that, on Calvary, Satan had triumphed?
There were the words of utter dejection of the two disciples hurrying away from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Explaining to the Risen Lord, their travelling companion, whom at that point they did not recognise, they said: “…. our own hope had been that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel”. (Luke 24:21)
“Where was God?” is a cry sometimes heard when a seemingly unmanageable disaster overwhelms us. It may be that God had indeed been banished! If not by peoples’ deliberate choice, then by people allowing their faith to be drained away. All relationships require daily nourishment – “Give us this day our daily bread”. With sparse or no nourishment, the quality of relationship suffers and begins to disintegrate. We hear some couples, whose relationship ended in divorce, say: ‘We just drifted apart’. Did they work, daily, at sustaining their relationship? All relationships, if they are to survive, need resolution through peaceful confrontation. It is the tough love of durability and commitment, the close attention to one another, that sustains relationships by being ever willing and able to offer the healing of a compassionate love.
In our personal one-to-one relationship with God, whom do we consider has worked more tirelessly, waited more patiently, forgiven more generously, loved more deeply, accompanied more faithfully – God or each of us? In the process of loving us, Jesus will have used many different approaches. At times he will have abruptly confronted us, as he did Peter, to waken us to a reality we had not seen. On other occasions, he will have listened patiently to our negativity, as he listened to the two on the Road to Emmaus. And, as then, if we had given him the invitation, he would have revealed himself to us through the Eucharist. He has wept with us at the loss of loved ones, as he wept at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus.
In other words, we will find, if we look with eyes of faith, replications in our own relationship with him of most of the Gospel incidents depicting Jesus’ pastoral care of others. What we read in the Gospels is not dead history. It is the revelation of how God is loving us now irrespective of whether or not we are participating in that love. But the unending love Jesus has for us remains ineffective until we open, to him, our fractured hearts and invite him in.
The power of Evil to overlay, in the human mind and heart, God’s revealed love and compassion for humanity was evident in Jerusalem on the day of Jesus’ Resurrection. This Satanic ability has not lessened in the succeeding centuries but, rather, has extended across the world as knowledge of the Faith has spread. In a 21st. century Europe of increasing secularisation the seemingly insurmountable volume of negativity in the daily news, reflecting all manner of violence being done to God’s creation, threatens believers’ ability to hold on to the Good News. It was the same for the remaining Apostles hiding in the Upper Room.
The Good News is under siege by Satan today as it was in the Upper Room on the Day or Resurrection. Jesus calls his community to reflect a Christlike holiness and wholeness as the only sure defence against Evil. When, individually, we allow our faith to languish and fail, we are undermining the whole Body of Christ.
The Risen Lord’s Body carried the imprint of the physical wounds he had suffered. Wounded as we are, by our own infidelities, and carrying the weakness of those wounds, the Risen Lord nevertheless continues to call us to reconciliation and discipleship, as he called the Eleven in their weakness. If we have the will and the love to respond to his call then, like Peter in the First Reading for this 3rd Sunday after Easter (Acts 3:13-15,17-19), we too can give voice to the Holy Spirit. Seeing and hearing us in our grace-replenished repentant state will encourage others to turn to the Risen Lord. The only way in which Evil can be overcome is by our standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Risen Lord in a confrontational encounter with Satan.
As Peter wrote:
“So, humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honour. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5: 5-7)