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Sunday, 3 April 2016

Homily for the Third (3rd) Sunday of Easter Year C By Fr. Munachi Ezeogu CSSp

Acts 5:27-32, 40-41,  Revelation 5:11-14,  John 21:1-19

-         On the Epistle - Jesus, Unique Revealer of God’s Mind

The book of Revelation is a difficult book to read. This is because we have a difficulty understanding both what it says and how it says it. More light on these two areas will greatly facilitate our understanding and even enjoyment of the book of Revelation.

What it Says: As the name suggests, Revelation is all about disclosing the mind of God. People sometimes read it as a book of prophecy for our times, finding in Revelation predictions that are fulfilled in our days. The message of Revelation is certainly relevant to our times. But it was even more relevant to the times and situations in which it was written. Any serious attempt to understand Revelation, therefore, will have to start with its message for the Christians of the late 1st century ad for which it was originally intended, before attempting to apply the message to our own present situation. The reader must adopt a THEN and NOW approach to avoid misinterpretation.

How it Says It: Revelation is an underground, politically subversive literature meant to deliver a message to Christian readers while at the same time confounding non-Christian readers. To achieve this end, the book uses code names and symbolisms which would be familiar within the circle of its intended Christian readers but unfamiliar to those outside the circle. These codes and symbolisms are sometimes numerical, such as the number seven for fulness, 12 and its multiples for the covenanted people of God, and 666 (or 616) for Caesar Nero(n). Unless we learn to think in terms of early Christian symbolism, we are likely to find Revelation a book that is difficult to read, if not misleading.

Revelation was written to encourage the persecuted Christians under the emperor Domitian. It was not written to reveal new things that are not already found in the teachings of Jesus in the gospels. What Revelation does is restate the teachings of Jesus, drawing out its implications to give hope to the persecuted people of God. 

In Revelation 5:1, in the immediate context of today’s 2nd reading, the visionary John is admitted into the divine presence. He sees at the right hand of the divine majesty a scroll written on both sides and sealed with seven seals. The written scroll symbolizes the deposit of the mind of God. It is written on both sides, which means that there is no more space for anything new. It is a complete revelation. It is sealed with seven seals, meaning that it is so completely locked and not available to everyone to take up and read. Next, John sees an angel proclaiming with a loud voice, 

“Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. 4 And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals" (Rev 5:2-5).

This means that no one in all creation could break open the seal and reveal the mind of God contained in the scroll — no angel (in heaven), no human being (on earth), and no demonic spirit (under the earth). Only Jesus can break open the seals and reveal the mind of God. This is a graphic way of presenting the same revealed truth we have already in John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” In other words, Jesus, not Moses, and certainly not the imperial cult with its mediums and soothsayers, is the one and final authority for revealing the mind of God.

Today’s short second reading is a cosmic doxology in which the entire created order gives praise to Jesus as the only one who is worthy to be worshipped as God. This is a subtle repudiation of the claims of the Roman emperor who claims to be divine and worthy of worship. It is because Christians refused to worship Caesar as God that they were being persecuted. This passage reassures the early Christians that they are right in refusing to worship Caesar and worshipping Christ alone.

What message does ths hold for us today? It challenges us to let nothing come before us and God as revealed by Jesus Christ. He is the sole authoritative revealer of the mind of God for the world. To him all praise and glory is due for ever and ever. Amen.

-         On the Gospel - I Love You, Lord; Help My Lack of Love

Some people refer to the gospel story we just heard, Jesus’ conversation with Peter by the Sea of Tiberias, as Peter’s Conversion. Others call it Peter’s Confession. Peter’s Confession is appropriate whether we understand confession to mean a declaration of faith or an admission of guilt. It is easy to see Jesus triple question to Peter “Do you love me?” and Peter’s triple answer in the affirmative as Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus. What is not so easy to see is how this dialogue represents Peter’s confession of guilt. To see the penitential aspect of what is going on here we need to read the story in the original Greek.
Did you ever wonder why Jesus had to ask Peter three good times if he loved him? We can see here a correspondence with Peter’s triple denial of Jesus. But that is not all. In English, when Jesus asks “Do you love me?” and Peter responds, “Yes, I love you,” it all sounds right. But in Greek we find that Peter is not exactly responding to the very question Jesus is asking him.

In the Greek Bible, there are three different words translated by the one English word love. There is eros, which means sensual or erotic love, the kind of love that leads to marriage. Erotic love lies in senses and the emotions that find the object of love attractive. Then there is philia, meaning love of the likeable, the admiration and devotion we have for a worthy person or thing, such as love for a hero, love of parents, and love of art. Likeable love dwells in the mind that judges the object of love worthy of it. Finally there is agape, which means self-sacrificing and unconditional love, even for a person who may not deserve it and when there is nothing tangible to be gained. Agape love is in the will. It is a decision. An everyday example I can think of that reflects agape love is the love for a cat. Dogs have a way of returning affection and being useful to the owner, but cats are something else!

You know the joke about the difference between a dog and a cat. A dog looks at his owner who feeds him, protects him, and cares for him, and says to himself, “He must be a god.” A cat looks at his owner who feeds him, protects him, and cares for him, and says to himself, “I must be a god.” This is not a propaganda against cats. On the contrary, it is a compliment to cat lovers for their selfless and unconditional love for these undeserving creatures. The clearest example of the self-sacrificing and unconditional love we call agape is found, however, not in the cat-human relationship, but in the love that Jesus has for us, which made him give up his life for us undeserving sinners.

Back to the gospel story. Jesus asks Peter, “Agapas me? Do you have agape love for me?” meaning “Do you love me in such a manner as to sacrifice your life for me.” Peter knows that he has not lived up to this standard of love. He knows that he disowned Jesus in order to save his head. So what does Peter answer? He answers, “Philô se. Yes, Lord, I have philia love for you,” meaning, “Yes, Lord, you know how deeply I like and admire you.” You see why it is a confession of failure? Peter is saying to Jesus, “Yes, I like and admire you, but no, I have not been able to love you with a self-sacrificing love as you demand.” So Jesus asks him a second time whether he has agape love for him and Peter again replies that he has only philia love for him. Finally, unwilling to embarrass him any further, Jesus then asks him “Do you have philia love for me?” And Peter answers “Yes, I have philia love for you.” End of the interrogation! Jesus accepts Peter the way he is. Even his philia love is good enough.

The Peter we see here is not the loud-mouthed, boastful man who thought he was better than the other disciples but a wiser, humbler man who would not claim more than he can deliver. Peter’s confession here can be likened to that of the father of the possessed boy who confessed to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). What Peter is saying is “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love.”

In our worship services we often sing hymns that profess our love for Jesus. Think of “O, How I Love Jesus” or “O, the Love of the Lord Is the Essence.” Peter challenges us today to realise that hymns like these only tell half of the story. The other half is that there is a part of us that does not love God, that denies the Lord when our life, our future or our well-being is at stake. Peter’s example invites us to bring this negative side of us to God for healing. So today, let us join Peter in his confession: “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love.”

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