Third Sunday of Easter A
Do any of you like to be corrected when they’re wrong? No one? I didn’t think so. Me neither! And have you ever noticed that correction can be harder to take from some people than others? I have to say that I absolutely hate it when Fr. Stitt is right. For some reason, when we don’t agree and his side proves true, it really gets to me. And it happens often enough, too, because he’s so smart! (I’d ask you to keep this a secret between us…but he already knows it.)
Now just imagine what it’d be like to be corrected by Jesus. That might even be a pleasant experience, right? He’d certainly be kind and gentle. He wouldn’t make you feel uncomfortable. Maybe Jesus would just let your error slip by. Right…? The way some folks talk about Jesus, you could get that impression. But let’s take a closer look at this Sunday’s gospel.
The story is from the first Easter Sunday. Two of Jesus’ followers, in light of the last three very difficult days, are headed out of town: they’ve turned their backs on Jerusalem, turned their backs on the Cross, even turned their backs on the news of an empty tomb, and are trying to get as far away as their feet will take them before the sun goes down. They’re discouraged. The feel defeated. They’re filled with questions. They’ve lost hope.
It’s then that Jesus joins them on the road—but they do not recognize him. Their first question to him is, “How could you possibly not know about all that has been going on?” But after recounting their version of events—their tale of woe—the question seems to be: And just how is anybody supposed to make sense of that?
Did you catch how Jesus responded? He didn’t say, “There, there—everything will be just fine.” He didn’t say, “Well, you’re certainly entitled to your feelings.” He said, “Oh, how foolish you are!” As so often happens when we translate the Bible into English, the Lord’s words have gotten softened a bit. More literally, Jesus says, “You’re not thinking! Oh, how mindless you are!” Or, as one translator puts it, “You’re being just plain stupid!” (I’m glad Fr. Stitt doesn’t correct me that way!)
Despite this very blunt start to the conversation, they keep talking with this Stranger. And obviously they’re captivated by his interpretation of all that has taken place, because they invite him stay with them: “Join us for dinner—we’ll even pick up the tab!” And it’s there at the table, as he takes, blesses, and breaks the bread, that their eyes are finally opened. “We’ve seen this before, in the way Jesus constantly shared a table with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. We’ve seen this before in the way he fed 5,000 with just five loaves. We saw this last Thursday night when, during the Passover supper, Jesus broke bread and said, ‘This is my Body.’ This is Jesus! Which means, he’s alive! So, the grave is empty, but not because his Body was stolen. He was crucified, but it wasn’t the end. He is risen on the third day, just as he said he would be! Which means everything else he said must be true. Which means he truly is the Son of God. Which means the way of life he taught us wasn’t just another nice suggestion from a swell guy; it’s the very word of God, which demands my complete obedience.” Their hearts on fire, their faith and hope restored, they immediately return to Jerusalem to share the Good News with others.
You see, the people of Jesus’ day were truth-seekers. They were in search of answers to the heart’s deepest questions—ones we’re still asking 2,000 years later: “What’s the purpose and meaning of life? Where do we come from, and where are we going? How do we make sense of it all? Is there a right way we ought to live?” The two travelers found the answer in Jesus and, recognizing the truth, they went from being truth-seekers to being truth-speakers.
We see this in St. Peter. His sermon, which we hear in our First Reading, was one he gave on Pentecost—just 50 days later. No longer locked up in hiding, he’s now speaking out before the crowds. He repeats the story that turned around the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It’s a message of great hope! But did you notice what he says right in the middle of his message, as he speaks of Jesus’ crucifixion? Taking a page from Jesus’ own playbook, he bluntly announces, “This man…you killed!” True words—but such hard words to hear!
If we continue reading the next verses in the Acts of the Apostles, what do we find? How did the crowd react? Did they shout him down? Did they pick up stones to hurl at him? No. Acts tells us they were cut to the heart and asked, “What are we to do?” And Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized.” And 3,000 of them were baptized that day (Acts 2:37-41). 3,000 truth-seekers become 3,000 truth-speakers!
In my years as a priest—especially in these last several months—there’s a trend I’ve started to notice, and it’s one that causes me great concern for our Church, for our country, for the whole human family. I’m afraid that, these days, when people ask questions, they’re not actually looking for answers; they’re looking for affirmation. What we want is somebody to tell us we’re right…even (especially!) when we’re wrong. You see it the way we’re no longer governed by common sense and the common good, but by opinion polls. I see it whenever I teach one of the Church’s harder truths—whether in a homily, or in the bulletin, or in responding to a particular question. People don’t want to hear it!
I’ve had four separate incidents like that just in this past week. Someone asked me a question the other day, and I responded with the answer Jesus gives in the gospels. I could tell from the look on her face that she wasn’t buying it, so I made it clear again that this wasn’t my own opinion, but the very word of the Lord. To which she responded—at least with a smile on her face—“But that’s not the answer I was hoping for.” There was another exchange where, after I’d affirmed some Church teaching, a parishioner wrote (I’m paraphrasing here), “I know what the Church teaches, and I even agree with what the Church teaches, but when you said it, it upset some people, and that upsets me.”
What’s a guy supposed to do? I know what the temptations are. One is simply not to say anything. The other is to tell folks just what they want to hear. But when we stop speaking the truth, before long we stop seeking the truth. And then we’ve turned our backs to Jerusalem and are walking away from the Cross.
It’s good to ask ourselves: How do I take correction? Am I more concerned with finding answers, or being affirmed? When I find that a Church teaching is difficult, do I automatically assume that I'm right...and the Church isn't? Am I willing to make changes when I see that I’m wrong? Or do I expect the world, the Church—even God—to change to accommodate me?
I still hate it when Fr. Stitt is right…but I’m increasingly grateful when he corrects me. And that’s the case because we’re good friends. I know he only does it because he loves me. He doesn’t want to see me get hurt. How much more so is that the case with Jesus! God did not come in human flesh to throw his authority around, to wag his divine finger in our faces. He came out of love. The way of life Jesus teaches—and I say “teaches” because he’s still teaching us through his Church—isn’t just one more opinion among so many others; nor is it meant as a way for an uncaring tyrant to keep us down with a long list of rules; it’s God himself saying, “You were made for so much more! What I want for you is far better than this! Let me lift you up—raise you with me, all the way to heaven!” And to prove this love, he was willing to pay the highest price: not in sliver or gold, but with his own Most Precious Blood.
God has shown us the path to life: it is the way of truth, a road Jesus walks with us—he who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. As he opens the Scriptures and breaks the Bread for us in this Eucharist, may we be renewed and strengthened to always honestly seek the truth, and be given the courage to always speak it.