Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Third Sunday of Easter: Homily: 2013

You will be told what you are to do.

In the readings this Sunday there are accounts of two of the most important moments in the history of the Church and therefore in the history of the world. The Conversion of St. Paul and, as we might call it, the repentance of St. Peter are arguably the most important events in the history of the Church, save only the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ himself.

Something of their importance can be seen from the fact that on June 29th the Church celebrates the Solemnity of St. and St. Paul together, their principal feast, and there is an old custom that whenever one of them is celebrated, the other must be commemorated also.

But their significance is not merely that of great men, historically important, but of ordinary men who were converted, redeemed and saved by Jesus and as such they speak to every Christian in a most intimate and personal sort of way. The way God dealt with them being very much the way he deals with each of us.

St. Paul’s conversion is obviously the more dramatic of the two.

Saul the persecutor of the Church and so the persecutor of Christ is knocked off his high horse, as he goes to extend his persecution of Christians to Damascus.  Jesus speaks to him: I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” Blinded, he has to lead around and cared for by a Christian and he fasts for three days. He is given by the Lord the great task of the conversion of the Gentiles. The scales fall from his eyes and he is baptized.

For those who insist that conversion must involve Jesus hitting you in the head with a two-by-four St. Paul is your man. His conversion is sudden, devastating, and gut-wrenching. There is no doubt that it can happen that way and when it does it is for a reason.

Saul before he was Paul exhibited self-confidence. He was so sure of himself that he took it upon himself to extend the persecution of Christians to Damascus; it was his idea not the High Priest’s. The fear of Ananias at least implies that with Saul it was personal, a matter of conviction that this was what God wanted and he – Saul – was the man to do it.

The only way to deal with that is just the way Jesus deals with Paul: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” If Saul is to become Paul, he has to be knocked down, blinded, lose his way, be led by another, and made to suffer,  as he has made others suffered. So it often must be with Christian converts and so it may be with us as well.

St. Peter’s meeting with Jesus by the sea shore is another story and perhaps a more familiar one.  Unlike Saul Peter has no confidence, he is disillusioned with Jesus and disgusted with himself. Those three denials weighed upon him and so many promises seemed broken. “I will make you fishers of men”. “Upon this rock I will build my Church”. “I, when I am lifted up, will draw all men to myself”. “This is my Body”. “This is my Blood”. So he is ready to go back to plain old fishing of fish and try to forget the whole nightmare.

The remedy for this is not a broken heart – Peter’s heart is already broken; the remedy for this is to remember.  Jesus will not let him forget just as he will not let us forget.

Jesus meets Peter and  the Sons of Zebedee  as he first met them on the shore of Lake Galilee, here named the Sea of  Tiberias, but the same place and renews the promise to the fishers of men:

‘"Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish’.

“It is the Lord” the beloved disciple cries not only because of the venue but because it is only Jesus who can bring the bounty, as he multiplied the bread and the fish to feed the 5,ooo. The bounty of fish but also the bounty of souls. 

“It is Lord” because the promise of the Eucharist is renewed: Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them just as in the upper room.

But for Peter the coming of the Risen Lord is at best a mixed blessing: the shame and guilt of his denials remain. There on the seashore just as in the courtyard of the high priest, is a fire:  “Peter followed at a distance and when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. "This man was with him." But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said.”

But Jesus asks Peter three times: “Simon, do you love me?” and three times Peter affirms the one he had denied and Simon becomes again Peter just as Saul becomes Paul. Like Paul Peter will be led by another and go where he does not wish to go.

As with Paul so with Peter and so it may be with us.

In any case to be saved by Jesus means to be saved for a reason. With Paul he is to be a chosen instrument to carry the name of Jesus before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel. With Peter it is that the Good Shepherd’s  sheep may be tended and feed.

So it is with us. The most important question is not “have you been saved?” but “what have you been saved for?” Have you figured it out yet?

You will be told what you are to do.

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