April 16, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Friday within the Octave of Easter
Reading (Acts 4:1-12) Gospel (St. John 21:1-14)
In the first reading, as Saint Peter speaks to the chief priests and to the Sanhedrin and they ask why it is that they have done what they did (particularly, it is why they were preaching), Peter recognizes what the real problem is and says, “If we have to answer for a good deed done to a cripple, then all of you need to know that it was done in the Name of Jesus Christ the Nazarean.”
Now there are a couple of things we need to look at. First of all, recall that the word Christ means “Messiah”. Peter certainly would have been speaking to the chief priests in Aramaic, the spoken form of Hebrew, and so he would have called Him Yashuah Messhiah, or “Jesus the Messiah”. This is the reason, in part, why they were so angry. And then, of course, Peter turned right on them and said, “…whom you put to death. He is the cornerstone rejected by you, the builders.” And so he was putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the chief priests and Sanhedrin, which, of course, they were the ones who had decided that Jesus was guilty of death.
We need to put it into context as well. Recall that even Peter and the other apostles did not understand. They did not understand that Jesus was supposed to be rising from the dead. They did not understand that He had to die; it did not make sense to them. When we hear about the chief priest, for instance, saying that it is better that one man should die than the whole nation, Saint John tells us that he spoke this not on his own but by the Holy Spirit because he spoke it in his role as high priest for the year. And so when we see these things, we need to be careful. Saint Peter, in this case, is pointing out that this was the choice these people had made, but they were acting in ignorance. To some degree, one could say that there was some malice involved, but for the most part it was ignorance. Saint Paul says, “If the rulers of this age would have known the mystery, they never would have crucified the Lord of life.” So when Saint Peter is pointing these things out, he is pointing out the truth but he is pointing it out for their conversion, to be able to help them to see what it is that they have done, but that it was also necessary that the Messiah had to suffer.
But he tells us that there is no other name given to humanity by which we are to be saved, and he certainly would have understood how important this was after what we heard in the Gospel reading today. Jesus, once again (as He had done on two other previous occasions), gives to them bread and fish, which was a sign of the Eucharist – the bread, certainly the Eucharist itself; but recall the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes. And here He is on the seashore providing for them this meal.
We see once again the same problem that the disciples have. The Lord is risen from the dead, but they are not quite sure what to do with this yet so they go out fishing. We could look at it from out own perspective and say, “What’s wrong with these guys? Didn’t they get it?” Well, we all know the answer to that. The answer is “no”; they did not. But you know what? Neither would we have gotten it. That is why we need to be so careful to make sure that we try to put ourselves sometimes into that perspective and say, “Would it have been any different if it would have been me? I probably would have done something far worse than what the disciples did.” If we see it from that perspective, it helps us to understand. They did not get it until after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit finally descended upon them, until after they gathered around Our Lady and she taught them. Up until that point, they did not understand. But as they were able to look back, then they could see and understand as Our Lord appeared to them and taught them the reality of Who He is. “Look at Me,” He says, “and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do. Put your finger in the hole and your hand in the side, and know that it is really I.”
He ate in their presence. He fed them. He gave them the Eucharist. What a blessing for the disciples! Not even understanding yet what He had done for them at the Last Supper, here He is celebrating Mass for them. Still, they did not even understand that was what He was doing until after the fact when they were able to look back and see. It was only through the power of the Eucharist that their eyes were opened, that they came to understand, just like the two men on the road to Emmaus had their eyes opened in the breaking of the bread and they were able to recognize Our Lord. So too in this appearance of Our Lord, as He feeds them with His own self, with the Eucharist, they come to understand. Not one of them had to ask, “Who are you?” – not, “Who are you standing in front of us” but “Who are you in the form of bread?” They understood. None of them had to ask who it was because they knew it was the Lord.
We too, in our own right, need now to pray and ask the Lord to open our eyes, to open our minds to be able to recognize Him truly present among us, continuing to feed us in the Eucharist, continuing to bless us. We can look at the disciples, we can look at the chief priests, and we can ask ourselves, “What was wrong with these guys?” Then we just need to look at ourselves and ask, “What’s wrong with me? I have 2,000 years of the Church’s teaching; I have the Scriptures; I know what the teachings of the Church are…” Still, how slow we are to believe. We cannot point the finger at anyone else; all we need to do is look at ourselves. It helps us to be compassionate to them; it also helps us to understand how compassionate Our Lord is with us. But then we need to ask the Lord to do for us what He did for them: to open our eyes, to open our minds, so that we will see and understand.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.