|The Sánchez Archives
SECOND SUNDAY OF
Patricia Datchuck Sánchez
A NEW LEAF
1 PETER 1:3-9
During the liturgical season of Lent now past, the church called its members to tend to the reality of sin in their lives and to renew themselves in the daily process of conversion to Christ. During the Holy Triduum, believers were invited to join their struggles and sufferings to the passion and death of Jesus and to find therein the forgiveness and healing he promised. But now that Lent and its emphasis on the Cross has yielded to the blessed new life and hope of Easter, we are challenged to make manifest the fruit of our Lenten efforts. If indeed, we have been converted anew to the good news, if we have truly turned over a new leaf, then it is time to let our new leaves show.
Just as the church celebrates the liturgical season of Easter, the world of nature is experiencing the season of spring. Trees are remembering the leaves which fell so colorfully to the ground last autumn. Barren branches, which appeared to be lifeless are now beginning to bud with hints of green and a promise of flowers and fruit. Birds are returning from warmer places, ending the silence of winter with their song. With these audio-visual aides to help us on our way, the church puts before us readings from scripture which help us to understand the implication of Jesus resurrection and the challenge of living an Easter faith.
In the first reading from Acts, Luke describes the response of those who heard the first kerygmatic proclamation. When Peter declared, God has made both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus who was crucified (Acts 2:36), his hearers were cut to the heart and asked Peter and the other apostles, What are we to do? (vs. 37). When Peter called them to repentance and baptism, they accepted his word (vs. 41) and from then on, their lives were different. Having turned to the word and turned over a new leaf, their Easter existence was characterized by life in common, centered on prayer, the apostolic teaching and the Eucharist.
The second reading from 1 Peter offers advice regarding the continuous challenge of turning toward Christ. Although life in Christ begins at baptism, as long as we are citizens of this imperfect world, there shall be conflict and suffering for those who take their commitment seriously. Ernst Käsemann reminds us that anyone knowing merely the risen Lord who has left his cross behind is no longer speaking of Jesus of Nazareth. . . there is no theology of resurrection without a theology of the cross. . . there is no sharing in the glory of the risen Lord except in the discipleship of the cross (Jesus Means Freedom, Fortress Press, Philadelphia: 1968). Nevertheless, there is cause for great rejoicing even in difficult times, because every small and great suffering will be resolved in joy and glory in the end.
Jesus in the Johannine gospel reminds the Easter church that the fruits of his dying and rising are peace, his abiding presence in the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins. Therefore those who have turned toward him, accepted his word and who are baptized into his dying and rising have also been commissioned by him to exercise a similar ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Traditionally, many of us will celebrate Easter by wearing new clothes. Pragmatically speaking, the changing season necessitates a change from heavier, warmer garments to lighter, cooler ones. Perhaps the spiritual roots of this custom could be traced to the fact that catechumens in the early church wore new white robes after their baptism into Christ at Easter. But todays liturgy would have us recall that turning over a new leaf requires a change that must begin within, in the heart, mind and will; only then will our new outfits be an authentic witness to our Lenten turning toward Christ and our resolve to live our Easter faith.
In 1969, the Latin American bishops meeting at Medellin in Colombia were determined to renew the life and ministry of the church in their respective countries. In their efforts at transformation, the bishops inaugurated the formation of Base Christian communities or a local environment of Christians which can provide for the basic needs of its members to live the Christian life. In order to meet these basic needs, the community must be the first and fundamental ecclesiastical nucleus, which on its own level must make itself responsible for the richness and expansion of the faith, as well as of the cult which is its expression. This community becomes then the initial cell of the ecclesiastical structures and the focus of evangelization, and it currently serves as the most important source of human advancement and development (Medellin Documents, # 15, Joint Pastoral Planning). Ten years later at their meeting in Puebla, Mexico, the bishops called the emergence and multiplication of the basic communities an important ecclesial event. In his encyclical, Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) Pope Paul VI called them the hope of the Church.
Far from being a new concept of communal life, this pericope from Acts makes it clear that the base Christian community was the ideal toward which early church aspired as well. Through the centuries the church has attempted to reclaim and authenticate this ideal through a variety of movements, e.g. Christian Family Movement, Cursillo, Charismatic Movement, Renew, etc. Todays first reading reminds believers of the principles and values which must inform any viable Christian movement and/or community: (1) apostolic instruction; after their initial evangelization and acceptance of the good news, baptized believers should receive ongoing formation or catechesis concerning Jesus words and works and the demands of discipleship. (2) the mutual sharing of time, talent and treasure; by virtue of their baptism into Christ, believers assume a responsibility for one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord. (3) the breaking of the bread; source and summit of their existence, the Eucharist is the outstanding means whereby the faithful can express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the true nature of the Church (Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, # 11,2, from Vatican Council II). (4) prayer; without the continual contact with God and daily responses to his initiatives, commitment, whether personal or communal, is not possible.
In this his second volume, Luke included two other similar descriptions of the early Christian community (Acts 4:32-35, 5:12-16). On this Second Sunday of Easter, in each year of the three year cycle, one of these summaries is read, refreshing us in the ideals of Christian community and the manner in which we are to actualize the reality of the resurrection in our daily lives.
1 PETER 1:3-9
As early as 130 C.E. the teachers and preachers of the Church, e.g. Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, were quoting from 1 Peter in an effort to encourage their respective communities to remain faithful despite the increasingly hostile environment in which they lived. Written ca. 90 C.E. by an unknown author who pseudonymously ascribed his work to Peter, this letter was originally intended for Christians in Asia Minor who were being harassed and ostracized by their pagan neighbors because of their Christian belief and life-style. Drawing together the most significant moments of salvation history as recorded in the Hebrew scriptures (viz. the exodus, wilderness trek, promised land), the author attempted to help the mainly gentile recipients of his letter to apply these moments to their own experience of turning to Jesus. For example, the exodus from slavery, through the Sea of Reeds to freedom could be compared to the watery passage of Christian baptism; the time in the desert could be likened to the struggles of living a truly committed life; and the promised land could regarded as a type of the eschatological glory to come. Because it contains so great a wealth of Christian doctrine, distilled into such a short and readable presentation, 1 Peter continues to guide all those whose turning over a new leaf in Christ has brought suffering into their lives.
The homiletic and liturgical character of these verses has led some scholars to suggest that todays second reading is an excerpt from a longer section (1:3-2:10) of ritual material which was probably read at early baptismal celebrations. Herein the author describes conversion to Christ as a change so radical that it could only be thought of as the birth of an entirely new person. Expanding on the idea of rebirth, the author underscored the fact that Christians are not self-made men or women but are, rather, reborn to a new life and a new hope through the merciful will of God (vs. 3).
Begotten of God, Christians thereby receive an extraordinary inheritance. Mention must be made of the special Greek vocabulary used by the author to make his point. Inheritance (kleronomia) is a word used in the Septuagint (LXX, Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) to refer to the promised land which God gave to his people as a secure possession. But the inheritance of those who have turned to Christ is even greater than the promised land. Indeed the inheritance of the Christian is imperishable and incapable of fading or defilement. Imperishable (aphthartos) means unravaged by any invading army; whereas the promised land suffered many foreign invasions, the Christians inheritance can never be pillaged or destroyed. Defilement (amiantos) means to pollute or make impure. The promised land had been polluted by the worship of false gods as well as by idols thrust upon the Jews by foreign invaders; but the Christian is promised an inheritance which nothing can render impure. Fading (amarantos) referred to the inevitable decay of even the most lovely flower. But the Christian has been gifted with an inheritance which will never diminish or decay.
What precisely is this inheritance which the reborn Christian possesses? As William Barclay (The Daily Study Bible, The St.Andrew Press, Edinburgh: 1976) has explained, the inheritance of the believer is God himself. This is the cause of his/her rejoicing (vs. 6) despite the fact that this present existence is fraught with distress and trials. God, who begets, also guards (vs. 5) his heirs. The term for guard (phrourein) is a military term which implies that God stands watch as a sentinel over all our days and nights. His presence does not immunize the believer from harm but provides the power and strength needed to endure until gifted with the salvation to be revealed in the last days (vs. 5). Soteria or salvation is derived from the verb sozein which means both to save and to heal. Said Barclay (op. cit.), salvation is a many sided thing. In it there is deliverance from danger, from disease, as well as from condemnation and sin.
Fortified by his/her hope in this deliverance, believers can remain loving and faithful to Jesus even without seeing him, celebrating his presence in word and bread and sacrament until the last days.
Last week, the beloved disciple served as our guide in probing into the mystery of the resurrection. In this gospel. Thomas and his experiences of Jesus direct our understanding of this central event of our faith. Whereas in the synoptic gospels, Thomas was mentioned only as a name in lists of the apostles, in the fourth gospel he is featured as a figure of misunderstanding and doubt (11:16, 14:5). Reginald Fuller (The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, Macmillan Co., New York: 1971) suggests that Johns assignment of a more precise role for Thomas marks the beginning of the Thomas legend and may have contributed to the formation of the Gospel of Thomas. In 1945, archaeologists unearthed the ancient library of Nag Hammadi; among their findings was the ancient Coptic Gospel of Thomas.
The theological and christological climax of this pericope is reached when Thomas exclaims, My Lord and My God (vs. 28). Consonant with and expressive of the high christology of the fourth gospel, Thomas words bring together for the first time the persons of Yeshua, or Jesus, the revealed name of the Savior (Luke 1:31), and Yahweh, the revealed name for God (Exodus 3:14). As Herbert Smith explained, He confessed our Savior to be Yeshua-Yahweh, Jesus-God (Sunday Homilies, Abba House, New York: 1989). Fuller (op. cit.) further explains Thomas was not making a metaphysical statement but a confession of faith that in Jesus he has encountered the eschatological presence of God at work.
Through Thomas movement from unbelief to belief, the evangelist has also made the apologetic assertions that: (1) Jesus risen body was not an illusion nor were his resurrection appearances the creation of the evangelist; the risen Christ, with wounds still in evidence but capable of gaining entrance into a locked room, was the same person as the crucified Jesus, (2) faith does not depend on physical evidence. Thomas did not actually touch Jesus, nor have generations of believers since Jesus return to the Father ever seen him. The macarism with which the episode concludes, Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed (vs. 29) indicates that Easter faith in Jesus will depend on the signs he performed (vs. 30), the word which continues to reveal him (vs. 31), and on his abiding presence with his own in the Spirit (vs. 22).
Assured of his continuing peace and presence with the church, believers continue to be sent forth (vs. 21) by Jesus to continue his ministry of forgiveness (vs. 23). Raymond E. Brown has noted that the paradigm for this commissioning in John is the Fathers sending of Jesus with all that implies by way of purpose, e.g. to bring life, light, truth. As the Father was present in the Son during his mission (12:45: Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me), so now must the disciples in their mission manifest the presence of Jesus to the point that whoever sees the disciples sees Jesus who sent them (A Risen Christ at Eastertime, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville: 1991). This is the privilege and challenge of being Easter people!
[NOTE TO USERS: This archive is available for use without charge, but it remains the property of the author and under copyright with Celebrations Publications. Users are permitted to print individual Sunday commentaries for pastoral use, but are prohibited from downloading or copying files or printing any portion of this for sale or distribution.]
e-mail the Celebration editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration prepared by Julie Lonneman.
The National Catholic
Reporter Publishing Company
115 E. Armour Blvd.
Kansas City, MO 64111