April 17, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Forgiveness is preached to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinThe Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Easter (Lk 24:35–48) begins immediately following the wonderful story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus who encountered Jesus on the road, walked with him not knowing who he was, and then finally recognized him “in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35). Eager to tell the other disciples how their hearts were burning within them, they hurried back to Jerusalem to the place where the other disciples were hiding behind closed doors.

While the two disciples “were still speaking about this,” Jesus “stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ But they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost” (Lk 24:36).

Jesus assures them he is no ghost by showing them his hands and his feet, and by eating with them a piece of baked fish. “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (Lk 24:41). And he said to them again, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus is not a ghost. He is a real flesh-and-blood human being who has been raised from the dead. This is a great mystery of our faith. The humanity of Jesus was not a temporary occurrence. It was not a hologram, or a work of the ecstatic disciples’ imagination.

Standing there in front of their faces is the man they knew and loved, the one who was mocked, scourged and crucified—while most of them fled and hid beyond locked doors like these. He is really with them now, comforting them (“Peace be with you”), but also challenging them to accept that he is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.

“Thus it is written,” says the risen Lord to his fearful friends, “that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day” (Lk 24:46).

But there’s more—much more. Jesus reminds the disciples that they are witnesses to the mystery of redemption. As witnesses, they will be called to testify to the truth about the forgiveness of sins, which will be “preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24:47).

I was in Jerusalem for the first time a little more than a month ago, and I shared many of my first impressions of this ancient and holy city in my columns for the season of Lent.

It’s amazing to me that Jerusalem was the place where our Church’s evangelizing mission began. It’s an unlikely place in many ways. Jerusalem, which means “city of peace,” has been, and continues to be, anything but a peaceful city. This city has known more than its share of war, religious and racial intolerance, hunger (both physical and spiritual) and inhumanity.

But Jerusalem is also a holy city revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims everywhere. There is no peace in Jerusalem today, but the longing for peace is so intense that you can feel it in the air. Jews, Christians and Muslims who are true to their scriptures and faithful to the best of their traditions share a desire for peace (and, with it, unity) that is almost palpable in Jerusalem, the city of peace.

Where can we find peace? How can we ever achieve an authentic and lasting peace that guarantees the end of all violence and hatred, but includes much more, including the recognition that we are all sisters and brothers, members of the one family of God with equal rights and dignity?

Recent popes—John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis—insist that peace is only possible through repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Only by letting go of past wrongs (no matter how egregious), and by the recognition of equal rights and responsibilities on all sides, can we ever achieve lasting peace. Only by recognizing that we are brothers and sisters (the indispensable first step), and then forgiving each other for the sins we have committed against God and one another (the second step), will we ever hope to find peace.

Every family has its hurts and disagreements. Some are very serious. Some tear families apart. Only repentance and forgiveness can heal the wounds that divide families, nations and religious, racial or ethnic groups. Peace is indisputably the work of justice and charity, but above all it is the fruit of genuine, heartfelt forgiveness.

When the risen Lord appeared to his disciples, he wished them peace (twice!). But he challenged them (and us) to find peace through preaching, and practicing, repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all nations—beginning from Jerusalem, the city of peace.

May the God of mercy open our hearts to repentance and the forgiveness of sins this Easter season and always! †

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