Third Sunday of Easter: The “Gospel of Life” within a “culture of death”

Lectionary Readings: (Taken from the Biblical Meditations of Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP)

  • Acts 2:14, 22-28. On Pentecost, Peter stated that Jesus was handed over to death “by the set purpose and plan of God” and therefore could not be bound by death’s bitter pangs. He was shown “the paths of life.”
  • 1 Peter 1:17-21. We have been redeemed not “by silver or gold but by Christ’s blood beyond all price.” “Your faith and hope, then, are centered in God.”
  • Luke 24:13-35. The account of the two men on their way to Emmaus.

Thoughts for your consideration:

For the Christian every Sunday is a celebration of Easter Sunday. The Liturgy of the Word may have us reflect on different moments in the life of Christ and the early Church but the Liturgy of the Eucharist always brings us back to the Easter moment. As a community we share in the Emmaus journey where in the breaking of the bread the risen Christ is revealed to us just as he was revealed to the two disciples in this week’s gospel passage. The privilege that we have during the Easter season is to further reflect on the Easter message in the word that is read and preached to us during this time.

The Easter season of the Church is observed between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. This is the time of transition where the disciples struggle to make sense of the events that have just taken place and to discern their communal identity as the disciples of the risen Christ. In today’s first reading we see Peter making his first public pronouncement after the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples. Peter is preaching the Paschal mystery with conviction. His message is one that can resonate with us as we contemplate the social realities of our day. In his explanation Peter is offering a juxtaposition between the social actions of our worldly leaders and the divine action of God. Through Peter we can hear our Church’s warning about society’s “culture of death” and what God and His Church offer us through the “Gospel of life.”

This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him. But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it.

We are taught that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were foreordained by God. Indeed this passage above tells us that this is the case. But we sometimes think or are taught that God brought Jesus into this world merely to die a horrible death in order to pay for our sins. If this interpretation is correct then the human agents that condemned Christ to death are not culpable since as far as God’s plan was concerned they merely did what was ordained from above. But the readings tell us that what Christ had to suffer was not a prescribed sacrifice to satisfy a divine payment. Instead Jesus had to share in the “culture of death” and the social injustice that was part of the deformed social condition of humanity. In the second reading God is not attributed with giving Jesus a death sentence, instead God is identified as the one “who raised him from the dead and gave him glory.” We have been ransomed by Christ insofar as Christ shared in our pain and social suffering and through him we see that God will respond to our actions of justice and charity with the divine gift of love and eternal life.

In the Gospel passage Jesus offer the two disciples on the way to Emmaus an explanation into the events surrounding his passion, death and resurrection by placing it within the context of the prophetic tradition. The Prophets shared in the mission to preach the countercultural word of God’s justice and peace and they were persecuted for challenging the social powers of their time. The Major Prophets including Isaiah, Jeremiah and Micah all tried unsuccessfully to turn the Kingdom of Judah back from the brink of disaster through a life of fidelity to God and the adoption of a political, economic and social agenda that flows from God’s vision of justice and peace. They each faced persecution and ridicule and so they placed their hopes on a future intervention where God will demonstrate the redemptive power of His own living Word. God would have to demonstrate the true power of the “Gospel of life” in the midst of our own “culture of death.”

A Passionist biblical scholar Fr. Don Senior, who is president of the Catholic Theological Union and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, offers this wonderful insight in his own treatment of the Passion narratives in the book “The Passion of Jesus Christ”.

The Gospels portray Jesus’ death as the culmination of his mission, the final act of selfless love and service that sealed a life totally committed to others. Jesus’ death was a prophetic witness in the cause of God’s justice. Despite opposition and hostility directed at him and his mission, Jesus remained faithful until the end and ultimately was vindicated by God’s love, a love stronger than death.

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About jdgonzo73

I am a Catholic lay minister in the field of Christian ethics, Latino theology and Paulacrucian spirituality. I am currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Fordham, an ad-junct professor at Molloy College and St. John's University and the Project Coordinator with the Catholic Roundtable.
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