Summary: Jesus calls us to lower the nets for a catch, even though it means persecution and rejection. We must learn the four steps of evangelization of our surroundings, friends and coworkers.
Third Sunday of Easter 2013
About forty years ago, acting on the directions of the Fathers of the Council, a team of expert Scripture scholars and liturgists gave the Church what is called the “expanded Lectionary” for Mass. The exact words of the Liturgy Constitution are “In sacred celebrations there is to be more reading from holy scripture, and it is to be more varied and suitable.” Thus, at Sunday Mass, where the Extraordinary Form has two readings, one from the Epistles and one from the Gospels, the same every year, the Mass of Paul VI has three, and they are organized on the famous Years A, B, C cycle. This has been a positive development that, many believe, has encouraged clergy and laity alike to read the Bible more frequently and with greater understanding.
But there have been some obvious mistakes, and one of those can be found in today’s first reading. The Jewish authorities are shown interrogating and dressing down the Apostles, then listening to St. Peter’s defense, which is the greatest vindication of freedom of correctly-formed conscience, and then without explanation, beating the Apostles and letting them go on their own parole. The Scripture records that the Jewish leaders were furious after Peter’s speech, and wanted to kill them.
What has happened here is that, in an entirely unsuitable editing of the Scripture, the people who put together the Lectionary have omitted the most important lines from this chapter of Acts. The great Jewish authority, Gamaliel, gives a little speech. Now Gamaliel was the rabbi who taught the man known then as Saul. Saul, who later became a persecutor of Christians, was then a young student. After his conversion, he almost certainly told the story related here to St. Luke, author of Acts.
The eight lines omitted in today’s first reading are really the core of the passage:
When they heard this they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, held in honor by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas arose, giving himself out to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was slain and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
The Council took some of this advice but, still furious that this Jesus movement was stealing their people, they beat the Apostles and told them not to teach in His name any more. Well, there was a greater chance that the Apostles would all go out and join the Roman army. They had been seized by the Holy Spirit and charged by Jesus Himself to teach and baptize all the nations. Nothing deterred them from that mission, and by the turn of the next century, the Gospel had indeed spread throughout the known world–even to India, Africa and most of Europe. Far from being intimidated, beatings and tongue-lashings from the authorities just gave them reason to rejoice and give thanks, because they were being treated just as the Savior had been treated. And the greatest of them all was not even beaten that day. He wasn’t even there. Saul, anointed and taught by Jesus Himself, became St. Paul, the greatest of missionaries to the nations.
Change of scenes. Tiberias, about the time of Christ’s appearance to the Apostles in the summer of 33 AD, is very, very hot, even before dawn. Fishing is not easy then. But Peter takes out the boat with some of the guys, and, predictably, catches nothing. Jesus reveals Himself for the third time, but they don’t realize it is He until, at His direction, they haul in an amazingly large school of fish. He invites them to break their fast with bread and fish cooked over a charcoal fire. The story is richly symbolic. St. Jerome says that, according to the science of that time, there were 153 species of fish. He tells us that means the Church must be made up of people from the whole world. The apostles bring the world to Jesus, who feeds us with the finest of wheat–His own Body, and He forgives us our sins through the outpouring of His Blood. Moreover, after the meal He symbolizes that forgiveness by directly recalling Peter’s behavior the last time he was near a charcoal fire–in the courtyard of the High Priest when Peter three times denied Christ and even cursed Him. “Do you love me, Peter?” Jesus asked three times. Peter’s heart was breaking with guilt, but He accepted Christ’s forgiveness, and that repentance and acceptance of forgiveness gave Him the grace to become one of the most effective missionaries for the Church, and our first Pope.