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Summary: Sometimes we get a wake-up call, like Peter did. Our culture is assailing Christianity. Will we wake up and take action--prayer, fasting and giving?

Third Sunday of Easter 2013

“Do You Love Me?”

There’s an old story about a farmer who had a mule to sell. When the buyer came around to see the mule, he tried several times to get the mule to pull his wagon. The mule would not move. The seller was walking off with his money when the buyer caught up with him. “This mule’s no good,” he said. “He won’t move.” The farmer returned to the mule, picked up a 2x4 from the side of the road, and hit the mule on the nose. The mule shook his head and started pulling the wagon. “He’s OK,” the farmer said. “You just need to get his attention, first.”

Now I’m not advocating animal abuse. But it’s true that sometimes God uses a crisis to get our attention. And most of the time, He also provides us with an interpreter to help us understand why we have been hit with a 2 x 4. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles we have today tells such a tale, but the Lectionary editors have left out the interpreter. The full story is this: after Pentecost, the Jesus movement, which was then called The Way, and now is called the Catholic Church, was growing exponentially in Jerusalem. The Jewish authorities tried intimidation, and are here seen dragging Peter and the apostles before their tribunal to silence them. Peter tells them they will not be quiet. Now what has been left out of the reading–and I encourage you to go home and read the whole story–is that the authorities sent the apostles out under guard. They were hopping mad and ready to murder the whole lot. But a wise rabbi–Gamaliel–who was also St. Paul’s teacher–advised them not to do it. He reminded them of a so-called Messiah named Theudas who started a revolution, was hunted down and killed by the Romans. There was also a Galilean named Judas who tried the same thing, with the same results. Gamaliel knew this Jesus business was different. The other guys were political revolutionaries who tried to kill their enemies. The other guys’ followers had either been killed or scattered. But this Jesus had allowed Himself to be arrested and killed after preaching love of enemies. And, instead of staying dead, there were credible stories that He was alive. Moreover these followers, instead of dispersing, were insisting that Jesus was alive, was now in the presence of God, and had sent the Holy Spirit who was working all kinds of healings among the people. So Gamaliel advised these authorities, who had been hit over the head with God’s mighty works, to go easy on these early Catholics. “If you don’t,” he told them, “you may find yourself fighting against God.” Of course, the irony of that statement is that the very word “Israel,” means “the people who fight against God.”

Peter himself had been hit over the head a few weeks earlier. On Thursday evening, he had told Jesus that he would gladly follow Him all the way to death. On Friday morning the accusations of a servant girl that Peter was a follower of Jesus were enough to cause Peter to swear the opposite, and even curse Jesus. One look from Jesus as the cock crowed that morning was enough rebuke to make Peter rethink his treachery, and three questions from Jesus later on the lake were enough to confirm him forever in his discipleship. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” “Then feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” It was enough to lead Peter for the next thirty years to follow Jesus, even to his own inverted form of Calvary. We should think about that dialogue when we come to communion today. In fact, it is the prescribed communion verse for our Mass: “Do you love me? Yes, Lord, you know all things. You know I love you.”

Last week a motorist ran into my vehicle and shook me up so much that I’ve had trouble sleeping. [Saturday] morning I found myself wide awake at 4 a.m. Now when that happens I know it’s a signal from the Lord that I should either do some spiritual reading or turn on Catholic television. I did the latter and got a fascinating update on the Catholic Church in Russia. Before the revolution of 1917-1922, there were thriving Catholic churches in Russia, alongside the much larger Orthodox. The revolution gradually turned the Russian people away from both, and also eviscerated Russian families, so that they ended up aborting most of their conceived children and now face a declining, aging population. All Christians in Russia, now a minority, are having to rebuild almost from scratch. They are full of hope, but the destruction of Christianity in Russia has brought the entire country to the brink of annihilation because of the demographic winter.

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