April 22, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier   Tuesday within the Octave of Easter

 

Reading (Acts 2:36-41)   Gospel (St. John 20:11-18)

 

Saint Peter, in his exhortation to the Jewish people on Pentecost, says to the people, “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Messiah this Jesus Whom you crucified.” This is the One Whom they had been seeking, the One for Whom they had been waiting for hundreds and hundreds of years – and they crucified the Messiah. But the positive thing in this is that it says, “When they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and asked, ‘What are we to do?’” And three thousand were added that day.

 

The beautiful thing is that even though Jesus is both Lord and Messiah, we have to understand that He has not done the work of the Messiah until He is crucified and risen from the dead. He was indeed the Messiah, as He stood there day after day preaching in the temple and in the area of Judea and Galilee. Yet because He had not done the work, none of the people who heard His preaching were able yet to be saved. No one was saved by the preaching of the Lord. None of the disciples were. They did not even understand it. For three and a half years, they heard Our Lord preach and they did not understand what it was that He was talking about. But when the Holy Spirit descended upon them, then suddenly everything that He had said to them made sense.

 

And what made sense more than anything was that the Son of Man had to go to Jerusalem to suffer, to die, and then rise again on the third day – the very points which they had argued about. Peter tried to tell Him that He did not need to suffer, that this was certainly unbecoming of Him: “If you just do things the right way, you don’t have to do this at all.” And then even when the Lord told them explicitly that they could not speak, for instance, about the Transfiguration until after He had risen from the dead, they did not say anything to anyone else, but among themselves they kept talking about what it meant to rise from the dead. Of course, they had no experience of it; this made no sense. But the fact is that as much as they had heard, they did not understand. We recall the beautiful story which we will hear in the next few days somewhere about the two disciples along the road to Emmaus. They heard the words of Scripture and their hearts burned within them, but they did not understand until they saw the Risen Lord in the Eucharist. Then suddenly they understood. And so we recognize that for Peter to stand there and say to them, “God has made both Lord and Messiah this Jesus Whom you crucified,” that we are saved only by the fact that He is crucified and risen from the dead. Had He not done that, none of us could be saved.

 

And so it is for us to be able to recognize this mystery, a mystery that even Mary Magdalene did not understand, coming to the tomb to anoint His body and saying, “They’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.” She did not believe yet in the Resurrection. She did not understand it until she saw the angels who announced it to her. Even then she did not understand fully until she saw the Lord. She saw and she believed. These people, on the other hand, who heard Peter, now they heard his preaching and they believed. They believed what he had said and therefore they were baptized. They received the Holy Spirit and their minds were opened then to be able to accept the truth that the Messiah had to suffer, to die, and rise again on the third day, otherwise, He would not be the Messiah.

 

And so it is for us, then, to be able to look at all of these events to see that it is not by the preaching of the Lord but by the work that the Lord had done that people are saved. While His preaching is critical, it is nothing but pious preaching until He actually acted upon it and verified everything that He had taught. And then all of a sudden we see His preaching in a new light and we need then to be cut to the heart because we understand Who He is and what He did and therefore what He said. We need to ask the same question as these Jewish people when they heard Peter speak: “What are we to do?” We have already been baptized so that is not the problem, but it is the other part: simply to believe that God has made both Lord and Messiah this Jesus Whom you crucified.

 

*  This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.