The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles captures the second of three opening speeches by Peter. Peter is standing near a portico of the Jerusalem Temple where he has just performed a great miracle. Peter, graced with the power of God, has healed a man with disabled ankles and feet. The rejoicing man has returned to Peter and is now clinging to him. Peter observes the gathering crowd and quickly directs them to the source of all this power, Christ Jesus, risen from the dead. In this speech to his brother Israelites and all those gathered, he calls on them to “reform their lives and turn to God!”
Peter, utterly convinced of Jesus’ resurrection, desires his brother Israelites to embrace Christ. The speech is very personal in its delivery. He reviews the facts of the Lord’s death but is also careful to note that his brother Israelites “acted out of ignorance.” He, like them, was not looking for a crucified Messiah. This, however, does not mean that this plan of God was not written into the prophets; it is just that the passages referring to the suffering Messiah were not of primary focus to Israel. The resurrection has now lifted this veil from the Old Testament so as to no longer obscure our sight.
The risen Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, assures his little flock that he will help them “to recall those words I spoke to you when I was still with you: Everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms had to be fulfilled … that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day … for the forgiveness of sins.” His guidance through the Holy Spirit will lead the early community to understand these saving events as the fulfillment of all that God promised humanity through Israel. They will later record this good news in the written form of Gospels.
To what passages did the Holy Spirit lead the early church? Though all Israelite history prefigures Christ there are some key passages, such Isaiah’s fourth “Servant Song,” 52:13-53:12, that highlight the mysterious plan of God more than others. Isaiah is often called the “Fifth Gospel.” Without the resurrection of Jesus this key passage would remain rather obscure, but with the resurrection, its power is unlocked and it serves as a valuable interpretive key to understanding the mystery of why the Messiah had to suffer and die. It reveals the truth that his death would gain for us the forgiveness of sins and access to eternal life. Why not go read this passage?
Jesus’ dying and rising have been revealed to be the mystery to be lived in each of our own lives. We too must suffer and die with him if we ever hope to rise to life. Our lives are filled with invitations from God to make this possible, some very difficult. St. John writes that this is especially true in the lived demands of love kept free from sin. “The way we can be sure of our knowledge of him is to keep his commandments. … Truly has the love of God been made perfect in him.” In this dying however, is the promised “peace” of Christ.
Questions for Reflection
1. Have I pointed to God as the source of all the good I may do or say?
2. Where are the invitations of God in my life that I find most difficult?
3. What would change if I more radically followed Christ?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.