4th Sunday of Easter
May 11, 2014
Acts 2: 14, 36-41
Iona College, New Rochelle
“Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2: 36).
During the Easter season our 1st reading at Mass, on both Sundays and weekdays, always comes from the Acts of the Apostles, the narrative of the 1st proclamation of the resurrection and of God’s gift of salvation offered to everyone.
This evening’s reading is from the very 1st such proclamation, from St. Peter’s address to the crowd on Pentecost. We hear just the final verse of his sermon, then some dialog when the people react to it.
Peter accuses the whole of Israel of crucifying Jesus. In a literal sense, that’s an exaggeration. In a moral sense, it doesn’t go far enuf, for everyone who has committed sin has crucified Jesus. The people whom Peter is addressing accept the accusation, implicitly admit their guilt. So do we, with our penitential act at the beginning of Mass and, indeed, with our participation in the Eucharist, this memorial of the Lord’s Body given for us, his Blood shed for us.
This Jesus whom we’ve crucified, “God has made both Lord and Christ,” Peter says. This is the climax of his sermon: Jesus is Lord! Jesus is the Messiah! It’s one of the most fundamental confessions of our faith that the Crucified One is Son of God—Lord—and Savior of the world—Christ.
When Peter says, “God has made him” such, he means that, thru his death and resurrection God has enabled us to recognize Jesus as Lord and Messiah. “Lord” is a title of divinity; Jesus is God in the flesh. “Christ” or “Messiah”—Greek and Hebrew words meaning “Anointed One”—is a title of function or mission; Jesus is Savior, Redeemer, Ruler, High Priest.
We acknowledge all that at the beginning of every Mass: Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! These acclamations are an expression of the apostolic faith 1st preached by Peter on Pentecost.
The crowd reacts to Peter’s preaching. They’re “cut to the heart” (2:37), stricken with remorse by the realization of what they’ve done. We’ve just read v. 36 of Peter’s sermon, which begins with v. 14—aren’t you glad we didn’t hear the whole thing? It includes extensive quotations from the Old Testament showing how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies, plus testimonies to his resurrection. Thus the people’s reaction.
They ask, “What are we to do?” Peter’s answer is simple: “Repent and be baptized” (2:38). Repentance indicates one’s admission of guilt and desire to reform one’s life. Baptism seals one’s repentance by joining one to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
These words are addressed today also to believers, to us. We’ve already been baptized, but that doesn’t end our need to repent. Our conversion is incomplete as long as we remain sinners, as long as we resist the grace of the Holy Spirit in our lives—which pretty much means that our need to repent never ends, not until we die and stand before Christ to have the depth of our repentance tried by his judgment.
Fortunately, Christ is most merciful. Peter tells the people, “Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (2:38). After our Baptism, Christ’s grace remains available to the repentant in the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Reconciliation. The only limit on his mercy is our own sincerity in turning from our sins and striving to stay close to Jesus, whom St. Peter—in our 2d reading—calls “the shepherd and guardian of [our] souls” (1 Pet 2:25).