Lectionary commentary: third Sunday of Easter, year A

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READINGS

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles, 2:14. 22-33

Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 16:1-2. 5. 7-11. R/. v. 11

A reading from the first letter of St. Peter, 1:17-21

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke, 24:13-35


Today we have two readings from the work of St. Luke. That Luke wrote a Gospel and a second volume we call Acts is a fact that is obvious from our Sunday Lectionary, especially in Easter time. Over the whole three-year cycle there are 110 extracts from Luke’s Gospel. There are 75 readings from Acts. Such figures indicate that Luke’s writings are never far from our Sunday contemplations.

It is possible to claim that Christians are more familiar with the Gospel according to Saint Luke than any other writing in the whole of the Bible. Who is not familiar with the Christmas Crib, entirely stocked by characters from Luke’s Gospel: Joseph, Mary, the infant, the shepherds, the hard-hearted inn-keeper, the shepherds watching over their sheep by night, and the choirs of angels singing their glorias? Who has not heard of the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, Mary and Martha and their kitchen priorities, and Zacchaeus, the reformed tax collector? Who has not been moved by the daughters of Jerusalem who mourned as he passed? Who has not quietly rejoiced that the Good Thief won a place in Paradise? Who has not been moved by the prayer for mercy: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”? Who has not prayed silently with the man on the cross who with loud voice prayed his last prayer: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”? And who does not know that all of these details are exclusively in the Gospel according to Luke?The fact is that most Christians know” the life of Jesus because they “know” the Gospel of Luke, not, perhaps, in every detail but in its broad account of the life and death of Jesus? Yet, it must be emphasised that Luke did not write a life of Jesus, that he did not set out to give an account of the details of the life that, he asserts, began in a manger and ended on a cross. Luke did not write a biography of the life of Jesus.

Nor did Luke set out to write a history of the earliest days of Jesus communities from the day of Pentecost to the days when St. Paul settled into Rome, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31). The Acts is not, and was not intended to be, a history of the Jesus movement as it began to make its way in the world.

Yet that is how the Lectionary seems to present the work of Luke. To be sure, he wrote a Gospel. To be sure, he wrote a work called Acts that seems to relate the story of the Church from the empty tomb to Paul’s ministry in the capital city of the Roman Empire. But what we read in Acts is no more history than what we read in the Gospel. Luke does not write about the past. His entire project, incorporating two parts (Gospel and Acts) is an exercise in prophetical stewardship of the Church. Luke set out to show that the Church is the instrument of the Holy Spirit whereby the nations may be blessed. Luke provides a sentence that near enough describes his whole enterprise in Gospel and Acts:

all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness …

Acts 3:24-26

Not that the whole project emerges from these sentences. But Luke points to a continuity from the days of “all the prophets” to the days when “all the families of the earth will be blessed”. Luke’s Gospel and his Acts plot how the Holy Spirit works to see to it that God’s will is done on earth and done according to God’s design.


Luke: Prophet of the Most High

Of course Luke tells a story, indeed, two stories. He crams his Gospel and his Acts with event after event told with verve and with an eye for telling detail. Who does not remember those “swaddling clothes”? Who can forget the boy Jesus in the Temple? Who has not sympathised with Martha in the kitchen?

However, it is not the events themselves that are of greatest importance in the work of Luke. It is how he tells the stories. It is the precise words and phrases he uses, not to excite interest in the past but to map out a future. To be sure, the prophet Luke enriches his hearers and readers with amazing tales. But it is how he tells them that reveals his prophetical intentions.

The voice of the prophets, from Moses to Malachi is the source of divine counsel and command. To listen to the prophets is to hear the words of God, to discover God’s purposes, and to discover the divine wisdom that that seeks the wellbeing of creation.

Luke tells his version of the story of Jesus and his version of the conception and birth of the Church in the light of prophetical perspectives. For Luke, the Hebrew Bible - or the Jewish Septuagint Greek translation of that Bible - through its prophetical visions plots how God has determined that the divine design will ultimately determine the way of the world.

The prophet is one who speaks on behalf of God, one who brings to earth God’s vision. Moses, the greatest of the prophets, gave God’s people the Torah, the very teaching of God, designed to educate Israel in its responsibilities to be a light, God’s light, to the nations. From Amos and Hosea, to Isaiah and Jeremiah, to Zechariah and Malachi, the voice of God’s prophets insist that justice and peace must prevail if humanity is to mirror the face of God. Luke well understood the prophetic vocation and the teaching prophets endlessly repeated. He understood, too, that, in the light of failure, repentance was an urgent and ever-pressing necessity. Consider the prophetic words spoken by John the Baptist’s father Zechariah but composed by Luke:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Luke 1:76-79

The baby in the arms of his elderly father is to be “the prophet of the Most High”, God’s prophet, who will reveal that the divine enterprise is “to guide our feet in the way of peace”. The world that sits “in the shadow of death”, through the tender mercy of our God, will be given a sunrise overcoming every darkness in our world. The vocation of the child, as Gabriel who “stands in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19)and so knows the mind of Godis “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. For Luke, the purpose of the Church, in every generation, is “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared”. The other old man in the story, a man who had the Holy Spirit upon him (Luke 2:25), took Mary’s child in his arms and blessed God for the privilege:

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.

Luke 2:29-32

In Luke’s deceptively homely accounts of the babies he has disclosed that John and Jesus will participate in God’s mission that had been announced by every prophet from the days that the people of Israel, led by the prophet Moses, made its way out of Egypt.


Jesus, prophets and prophesy

All four Gospels employ words such as prophet and prophecy to illustrate aspects of the person and ministry of Jesus. But it is in the writings of St. Luke that prophecy is at the heart of the enterprise. Indeed it is Jesus himself who (in today’s Gospel) insists that his prophetical identity is at the heart of the Bible’s revelation of his person and his mission. Listen to the conversation between Cleopas and his companion and the stranger they meet on the way to Emmaus:

Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people …

Luke 24:18-19

To which Jesus replies,

O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24:25-27

Jesus himself, the Risen Lord, proclaims that all the prophets have spoken concerning him. Not only that. His claim emphasises the divine necessity that he should “suffer these things and enter into his glory”. Further, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets he insists that all that was written was “concerning himself”.

Luke’s readers and hearers are taught that what God determined Jesus to be in the world is writ large in “Moses and all the prophets”. And such readers and hearers must be aware that of the phrase “all that the prophets have spoken” means “all the Scriptures”. All Scripture is a revelation of “the things concerning himself”. Readers and hearers are assured that this teaching of Jesus goes to the very heart of who he is and what he is called by God to accomplish:

Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the way, while he opened to us the Scriptures?

Luke 24:32

To open up “all that the prophets have spoken”“ is to reveal the meaning of the suffering Christ who thus passes into glory.

In case his readers and hearers have been inattentive Luke repeats the scriptural lesson he had taught on the way to Emmaus. When Cleopas and his companion are telling their story to “the eleven and those who were with them gathered together” (Luke 24:33), that is, to all the Jesus people, Jesus comes and gives them peace: Peace be with you! Then he repeats the catechesis he so clearly taught on the way to Emmaus:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.

Luke 24:44-49

Consider what readers and hearers are taught here by Jesus himself. What is written in Scripture is,

that the Messiah (the Christ) should suffer;
that on the third day (he will) rise from the dead;
that the purpose of this suffering and rising is
so
that repentance and forgiveness of be proclaimed in his name
to all nations.

Further,

this mission to all nations is to begin in Jerusalem,
a mission entrusted to chosen witnesses of these things,
who will receive the promise of my Father.

All of this will begin when “you are clothed with power from on high”. What we have here is a disclosure of the person and mission of Jesus. Jesus, in being the fulfilment of all God’s desires expressed by the prophets, brings to earth all that God has designed for human wellbeing:

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Luke 1:32-33

Mary’s question is our question,too:

How can this be?
And the angel answered her,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be called holy
the Son of God.

Luke 1:35

It is the Holy Spirit, “the power from on high” (Luke 24:49) who will effect all that will be achieved by Mary’s child. This was the first public utterance of Jesus:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.

Luke 4:18

It is God himself who anointed the Son of the Most High to gospel the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to restore sight to the blind, to free the oppressed, and to proclaim to the whole world that the time of Jesus is the favourable time, the time acceptable to God. It is the time of Jesus, the time of salvation. But the story of prophetical fulfilment does not end with Jesus. There is, of course, the time of Jesus. But that time begets a new time, the time of the Church. As he was about to be “carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51), he reminded “the eleven and those who were gathered together with them” (Luke 24:33) that,

repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to the nations, beginning from Jerusalem”

Luke 24:47

The prophetical voice of Jesus thus inaugurated the time of the Church as “the promise of my Father” (Luke 24:49), the time when the Holy Spirit empowers the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness of sin to the nations.


Three Ages of God

The time of Israel: from the call of Abraham to the last of the prophets. This is the time when the vocation of Israel was to institute the ways of God into its life and to be a light to the nations. But, as the prophets endlessly lamented and endlessly chastised, God’s people did not light up the nations. But that did not mean that failure was acceptable to God and prophets were convinced that God would not be gainsaid. God would not give up on the people chosen. As Mary hymned,

He has helped his servant Israel,
In remembrance of his mercy.

Luke 1:54

The Time of Jesus, the Son of the Father, who lived the ways of God, the very ways the prophets proclaimed to be God’s ways for the world, and, through the sustaining power of the Spirit of the Lord God, in his person, in every word and action, laid before the world a life utterly in accord with all that the prophets revealed and all that God designed.

The Time of the Church, the time in which the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, becomes Jesus in our world. Generation after generation must see the face of Jesus, must be brought under the care of Jesus, must be rescued into solidarity with Jesus, and must be enlivened with the love that took him to the cross and beyond. The Church must, in every age, ready itself so that, in its proclamation to the world, the world hears the voice of God and becomes the Son “anointed to gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18,my translation).


Imaging a Prophetical Church

The title Holy Spirit occurs over 90 times in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts. Each of these works begins with nativity stories. In Luke’s Gospel there is the nativity of John and the nativity of Jesus. Luke’s “infancy” of the Church in Acts is a parable portraying the birth of a prophetical Church. These infancy stories are better understood, not as a history of beginnings. Rather they are parables of proclamation. The stories are symbolic prologues to all that is to come in the Gospel and in Acts. There are many gracious insights awaiting all who meditate before our cribs. One such is to realise that the Holy Spirit is everywhere at work as the parable of the birth unfolds. For the parable in Bethlehem and the parable in Jerusalem’s upper room are both as much about the birth of the Church as about the birth of John, the birth of Jesus, and the appearance of fiery tongues from heaven.

Take Luke’s Bethlehem parable as an example:

John the Baptist:

he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.

Luke 1:15

Mary:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

Luke 1:35

Elizabeth:

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed in a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”.

Luke 1:41-42

Zechariah:

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied …

Luke 1:67

Simeon:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the Temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do to him according to the custom of the Law, he took him in his arms and blessed God

Luke 2:25-28

Anna:

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel …

Luke 2:36

The Spirit of the Lord that was upon the prophet Isaiah, that was upon Jesus as he proclaimed the word in the Nazareth synagogue, was the Spirit that filled the Baptist, that filled Mary, the mother of Jesus, that filled Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna.That Spirit is “the promise of my Father” (Luke 24:49) with which Jesus promises to those he blessed as he parted from them, and was carried up to heaven” (Luke 24:51).

Look how each of those around the manger, as it were, being filled with the Holy Spirit, become proclaimers and explainers of what God was setting forth as Jesus is born into our world. The old woman Elizabeth, herself with child, is the first mortal to announce the identity of Mary’s child:

when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.

Luke 1:41-45

Notice that Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and thus was empowered to recognise the child as “my Lord” and understood that what had been spoken to Mary by God would be fulfilled.

The old man was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied (Luke 1:67). Notice that his prayer is made to “the Lord God of Israel” who, in the birth of his Son and Mary’s son “has visited and redeemed his people”. The Lord God has raised up a horn of salvation … “as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets of old”, in keeping with the mercy promised and covenant made. From the days of Moses to the days of Mary.

To what purpose has God given a child to the house of his servant David? Zechariah is clear:

that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,

in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

Luke 1:74-75

But Zechariah’s prayer does not end with thanks for Israel’s deliverance. There is a whole world out there needing the God of Israel, needing another prophet to clarify God’s intentions for all who sit in darkness:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Luke 1:74-79

The prayer of this old priest, contemplating what God is about in bringing two unexpected babies into the world, sees into the very heart and mind of God.

What Luke presents in the words of these four unlikely prophets is an insight into the past, an assessment of what God is doing, and a glimpse of the future that God intends for all humanity. Even the eighty-four year old Anna grasps what is happening and “she began to give thanks to God and to speak—to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Read and pray the Magnificat of Mary, read and pray the Benedictus of Zechariah, read and pray the prayer of Simeon on whom the Holy Spirit rested. Where is there a clearer revelation of all that Luke’s Gospel and his Acts are about than in the words of the man who before he opens his mouth is three times roused by the Holy Spirit to recognition and prayer? He sees in the child the Messiah of the Lord God. He embraces the child in his arms, and blesses God:

for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.

Luke 2:30-32



A reading from the Acts of the Apostles, 2:14. 22-33

Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,

‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
Brothers and sisters, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up,
and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.

The word of the Lord.


This is a Pentecost Day speech. Indeed, it is the first speech of Peter after he and all who were with him were “filled with the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them and “they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). But before the speech to “the men of Israel”, the sound of Spirit, “a sound like a mighty rushing wind” was heard by devout Jews from every nation under heaven who were dwelling in Jerusalem (Acts 2:5). We may surmise that the crowds were visiting the Holy City for Passover and remained there for the concluding Feast of Pentecost. Whatever the historical detail, it is important to realise what Passover and Pentecost recalled and celebrated:

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.

Exodus 19:16-19

What follows in the Book of Exodus is the appearance of God to Moses, the giving of the Ten Commandments, and the sealing of the covenant with the stragglers from Egypt who are thus transformed into the people of God.

There is, too, at this feast a remembrance of the great prophet Elijah who found God in the quietness of silence, or, as earlier translations enriched us, in the still small voice:

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.

First Kings 19:9-13

The wind and fire of Pentecost recall and celebrate God calling to be God’s people and, of course, who among the crowds in Jerusalem will not remember that Elijah (a prophet dear to Luke’s heart) found God in the silent voice on Mount Horeb, otherwise known as Mount Sinai, where God declared his covenant love to Moses, and through that great prophet to the people at the foot of the mountain.

Is it not an indication of Luke’s conviction that the story of Jesus must be told first to his Jewish brothers and sisters and through them to the world that the very first people to be amazed, astonished, and perplexed were Jews from the four corners of the Roman Empire? And is it not a wonder that Peter stands before Jews from everywhere and opens for them the words of another prophet, the prophet Joel? And does not the whole Lukan project reflect Joel’s final words:

And it shall come to pass
that everyone
who calls upon the name of the Lord
shall be saved.

Acts 2:21

Today’s reading begins where the Joel prophecy ends but what Peter preaches about Jesus to these people from the every nook and cranny of the Empire is, in summary, the gospel of God, the ministry of Jesus from “mighty works and wonders and signs” to the raising up by God. Peter’s message follows the standard pattern of Christian preaching: human reaction to Jesus is opposed by God who, in the tragedy of the story, reveals steadfast love for all humanity.

Peter turns to Scripture to explain that God was working in the story of Jesus for God did not abandon Jesus to Hades nor to corruption but to resurrection and proclamation (“we all are witnesses”).

Peter turns to David, the once and future king, quoting Psalm 16:8-11. David’s hope that he would not die and experience the nothingness of death (Sheol, Hades) was not realised. So the psalm must refer to someone else. Peter assures his audience that the psalmist was speaking “about the resurrection of the Christ who was not abandoned to the place of death nor did his flesh see corruption. God raised up this Messiah and placed him at the right hand. There he was given the promise of the Holy Spirit, a promise, says Peter, now fulfilled for that very Spirit has been poured out. That is what these people from the world’s end are seeing and it is that Spirit that they are hearing.

Turn back to Luke’s Gospel and join the two disillusioned companions of Jesus as the make their way to Emmaus. Jesus comes and “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concern himself (Luke 24:27).

Join the eleven and those who were with them” (Luke 24:33). When “Jesus himself stood among them” (Luke 24:36), he said to them,

These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

Luke 24:44


Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 16:1-2. 5. 7-11. R/. v. 11

R/. You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy.

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

I say to the
Lord, “You are my Lord
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot. R/.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the
Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. R/.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,

or let your holy one see corruption. R/.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. R/.

Psalm 16 is a confession of faith. It is a declaration made by one who is securely sheltered by God. It is God who directs every instinct of this believer’s heart. Every movement of mind, of body, of soul is a blessing and a sustaining reach of God into the being of this prayerful believer. Even death holds no fear for God will overcome decay and open up the path of life. All these blessings come from the God in whose presence the faithful one forever dwells. The defining emotion of the person of faith is joy, a delight that, as it were, one sits at God’s right hand.



A reading from the first letter of St. Peter, 1:17-21

If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

The word of the Lord.

The First Letter of Peter concerns itself with the transformation inherent in leaving the world of paganism and coming to faith in God as Father. It is, as it were, leaving the insiders and becoming outsiders in relation to one’s place in a mixum-gatherum of peoples on the eastern margins of the Roman Empire. The challenges to be faced are, first, the demands of living a life of faith in God, and, secondly, to live in a pagan society as a good citizen. Allowing for almost two thousand years of history under the bridge, the Fist Letter of Peter has a remarkably modern ring.

While it is difficult to determine whether the recipients of the letter were actual exiles displaced and scattered God knows where. The stress on exile may very well be metaphorical, that is, a way of stressing that their allegiance to God “exiles” them from their pagan past and exiles them from the lives lived by their pagan neighbours.

The cautionary words spoken to readers and hearers in today’s reading will not go over the heads bowed attentively in our pews:

If you call on him [God] as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile

Living gospel demands means lives of righteousness, that is, godly lives. “Godly lives” are lives lived according to the details of God’s prescription. We have seen above what the Spirit of the Lord enjoined upon Jesus of Nazareth. Demands laid on “exile” shoulders were shown to the world in “the precious blood of Christ” who was led like a lamb to slaughter. But that death, as every death, is not the way of God: “God … raised him from the dead and gave him glory”. That is the end of all exile: “Your faith and hope are in God”.

The exiles “were gospelled by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (First Peter 1:12, my translation) and faith and hope are thus solidly grounded. Placing the suffering and death of Jesus at the centre of that gospel, the write of First Peter is underlining that the life of Jesus is the life of the Church, the life of all who are born again into love.



A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke, 24:13-35

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.


So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found
the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Gospel of the Lord.

Luke’s conception of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus is unique. While it is impossible to harmonise the accounts in all four Gospels into a coherent narrative, Luke is so far off the page that any attempt is futile. The difficulty is not simply in the facts. Does the Risen Jesus show himself only in Galilee? Or only in Jerusalem?Or in both Jerusalem and Galilee? - and these are the least of the worries confronting anyone attempting to create a harmony. Luke’s objective is not to place the resurrection at the very heart of his story. Luke’s accounts of the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances to those who had come with him from Galilee are not the heart of the matter. There is much more to Luke than that.

Luke’s introduction to his second volume is as clear a statement of intent as readers and hearers might wish:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Acts 1:1-5

First, Luke insists that there will be a future. The foundation of that future is “all that Jesus began to teach … until he was taken up”. Secondly, the Holy Spirit is entrusted with commands, as yet to be revealed and enacted. Thirdly, the coming of the Holy Spirit is secure for so the Father has promised. Fourthly, the age of the Holy Spirit will soon come to pass: “not many days from now” and the days of the Holy Spirit will be the days of baptism, of the beginning of Church in the world.

Or, to put Luke’s words in a phrase, the age of Jesus is about to become the age of the Church. The last words of Jesus before “he led them out as far as Bethany” were these:

Behold! I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.

Luke 24:49

The purpose of Luke’s resurrection stories, taken as a whole, is to begin to outline the very nature of the Church.

First, there is the proclamation, a proclamation rooted in the Law of Moses and the Prophets, and the Psalms, that is, in the fullness of the Scriptures:

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Luke 24:45-47

Then there are proclaimers:

You are witness to these things

Luke 24:48

And, of course, empowerment:

I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.

Luke 24:49.

It is into this foundational document of the Church’s very being that Luke tells what was said and done on the day two of his followers were met by Jesus as they made their way to the village of Emmaus.


Word and Table

The word “way” occurs 101 times in the New Testament. All told, the word occurs 62 times in the four Gospels. What is notable is that 40 of these occur in the writings of St. Luke. Of course, the basic meaning of “road” is uppermost but the metaphorical capacity of the word is richly mined in the Bible and nowhere more than in the Gospel according to Luke. Indeed the very first occurrences of the word in Luke are richly evocative, as a father recognises the vocation of a very unexpected son:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Luke 1:76-79

There is scarcely a writer in the New Testament who is not indebted to the prophet Isaiah and Luke is no exception. In his quotation of Isaiah below notice how geographical features are transported into images that fill the minds of everyone who reads the prophet’s words:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare
the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every
valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Luke 3:4-6 (Isaiah 40:3-5)

Some scribes and priests, seeking to entrap Jesus into to saying something that would enable then to hand him over into the power of Pilate, ask about the tax coin that was engraved with Caesar’s head. Their evil intent is masked in hypocritical praise:

Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God.

Luke 20:21

Luke’s Acts is full of everyday and imaginative use of the word “way”. But there is one use that is of special importance. Its first occurrence in Acts is a surprise. St. Paul was speaking in a synagogue when some people there deeply opposed him,

speaking evil of the Way before the congregation.

Acts 19:9

“The Way” had become a name for those who embraced Christian faith and, to coin a phrase, followed the way of Jesus, believing it to be the way of God.

The point is that in reading the Bible, in reading what we find in the New Testament, and especially reading Luke’s Gospel and Acts, we will do well to pause when the word “way” occurs to ensure that we absorb its rich potential. This is especially important when readers and hearers accompany Cleopas, his companion, and the stranger who talked to them on the way. Notice the two occurrences of the word “way”, apparently with no ulterior significance:

Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the way, while he opened to us the Scriptures?

Luke 24:32

- and -

Then they told what had happened on the way, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:35

These two summary sentences invite people of The Way to reflect on the Word and the Bread as essential if the way of God is to be proclaimed and heard. We might well ask why Luke wrote his longest by far resurrection story to explain what happened when the stranger opened the Scriptures and broke the bread as the three walked to way to Emmaus.

Why is the story told before the Risen Lord appears to all his disciples, before the Ascension, before the election of Matthias, before they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, before any preaching was done, and before anyone received Peter’s word and were baptised?


Dr. Joseph O’Hanlon.