Sunday, April 26, 2015

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2015
Acts 4: 8-12
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

“In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene this man stands before you healed” (Acts 4: 10).

The 3d and 4th chapters of the Acts of the Apostles recount how St. Peter and St. John healed a crippled man in the temple, continued preaching the resurrection of Jesus, and were called before the Sanhedrin to explain what they’d done.

St. Peter with net
St. Mary's, Fredericksburg
The elders and leaders of the Jewish people realized that the apostles weren’t learned men; they were simple fishermen from Galilee.  But they’d done something stupendous and were drawing a lot of attention.  They were winning converts to this new way of practicing Judaism.  The leaders were puzzled and alarmed.

In today’s reading Peter gives a simple, straightforward explanation.  St. Luke tells us, moreover, that in giving his response, he’s “filled with the Holy Spirit” (4:8).  For he’s about to preach the Gospel, and, in preaching the Gospel the Church leadership always teaches under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  So Jesus promised.  In this passage, we see that in the apostles Peter and John; in our day, the Spirit works thru the apostles’ successors, the Pope and the bishops.

In the immediate context, tho, it seems that the work of the Holy Spirit is to fill Peter with courage and, to use a favorite word from Acts of the Apostles, with “boldness,” to proclaim Jesus to the very people who’d condemned him to death; to proclaim boldly that the crippled man has been made whole by the power of Jesus; that “there’s no salvation thru anyone else” (4:12).

Note that Peter says the crippled man “was saved” and that he announces “salvation” thru Jesus Christ.  There’s an intrinsic link here:  the man’s body has been saved, and a fuller salvation is offered to him and to everyone thru Jesus Christ.  The physical healings that Jesus performed, like the one that Peter and John have done here, are images of the spiritual healing that God works on sinners:  forgiving sins, restoring us to his favor, ultimately raising us to that same eternal life that Jesus Christ, risen from the tomb, already enjoys.

Our association with Jesus thru Baptism and the other sacraments, thru the life of the Church, thru our following Jesus’ teachings—all these associations with Jesus make us God’s children by adoption—as we learned in our catechism a long, long time ago when we reviewed the effects of Baptism.  St. John speaks of that today:  the love of God bestowed on us allows us to be called his children (1 John 3:1-2).

This is the restoration won for us by Jesus Christ the Nazarene.  Human beings were created in God’s image, which means we were meant from the start to be God’s children.  Sin destroyed that relationship, but Jesus has brought us back into it—as many people as are willing to come to him to be healed, forgiven, made whole in our deepest, essential selves.

Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) because he’s totally devoted to God’s flock, God’s people:  to our well-being, our safety, our salvation.  He’s intent on keeping the wolf we call the devil away and on leading us all to safe pasture.  His laying down his life indicates how far he’ll go to protect his flock, and his rising from death shows his power to restore life to the flock’s members who’ve been injured and maimed by sin.

“In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene this man stands before you healed.”  If we desire healing—not of our bodies, at least not in the present world, but of our hearts, our souls, our deepest selves—we find that in Jesus Christ.  Whatever our wounds are, no one can heal them except Christ.  Whatever our hungers are, no one can satisfy them except Christ.  Sometimes it takes us a long time to learn this.  People waste time and energy pursuing health and beauty, pleasure and power, money and fame—and they come up empty every time, hungry, unsatisfied, lost.  Despite what you see on TV, a luxury car won’t bring you joy.  Neither will a case of cold beer, some bottle of shampoo, the next blockbuster movie.  Neither will Hillary or Jeb or Marco or any of their sort.

“There is no salvation thru anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”  The apostles believed that so deeply that they died rather than renounce that name.  The nitely news shows us our own contemporaries dying for the same reason in Nigeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere.

Do we live each day as if we believe that?  Do our words and our relationships and behavior testify to our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, the only one whom we follow without any reservation?

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