Third Sunday of Easter
Things really didn't turn out the way the disciples had planned. They traveled with Jesus for almost three years, had observed many wonderful things and probably expected more of a "return on their investment." With all his miracles and victorious confrontations against the religious authorities, with the crowds flocking to him, he looked like a winner to all of those who followed him. They had secretly hoped to sit in glory with him when he came into his earthly kingdom.
We tend to think that it was easier to believe “back then,” and we find it difficult to believe that the first disciples could have been so far off track. But if we listen carefully, we can hear in stories like today’s Gospel passage, that they had the same daily struggles we have. We may be far removed from Jesus' first followers, but like them, we too struggle with life and death, love and forgiveness. We ask the same questions to life’s disappointments as they did, “Why?”
All of the Gospel stories are about real issues; they speak to what’s on our minds and what troubles our hearts. They strengthen us when we doubt. These stories are not only for the good days and celebrations of our lives. They are also for when we face darkness, when life feels threatening, when the darkness seems overpowering and we are afraid of losing our bearings. God speaks to us through these stories, they are our light in darkness, our compass for when we feel lost.
On Easter Sunday the disciples were huddled in fear behind locked doors; now they are witnesses. He is risen from the dead and now they need to start all over again. When he appears to them this time, he shocks them to attention by his presence, and they are overcome by their amazement and joy. Now they are more attentive; they have moved from simply being "followers" and can now be called "disciples." For that is what they are, they are listeners, learners, beginners. And one cannot become a "witness" unless one listens and learns.
We become witnesses to the Gospel message by listening to the Word of God, by living changed lives and by voicing our faith. Today our world needs such witnesses. We live in a shattered world, in a fragile peace, threatened by war and the unsettled conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan; the recent saber rattling of Iran; on-going violence in Syria and the cloud of possible future terrorist attacks. Discord surrounds us and rivalry, hatred and anger flourish in our world. The day seems to belong to the most powerful and violent. In addition, our planet is in need of witnesses to speak for and defend if from further ravishing. Children, women, the poor and elderly are not respected and often lack voice, immigrants are distrusted and in many places, have suffered personal violence for themselves and their families.
St. Francis of Assisi used to say to his followers, "Let us begin again to serve the Lord God, for up to now we have done nothing." It is never too late to start over again, for we too, like the first disciples, have been guilty of missing the mark - of being way off track. Yet, the final words of today's Gospel are aimed at no one other than ourselves: we are “the witnesses of these things.”
Let us then listen, learn and begin anew so that we may be effective witnesses to the presence of the Risen Lord in our world.