Opening the Word: Empowered apostles

Today’s readings are filled with vivid contrasts. Throughout Lent, we heard about apostles and disciples who were confused and conflicted. At the darkest hour, the head apostle failed to be the rock he was chosen to be. Peter, having denied Jesus a third time, “went out and began to weep bitterly” (Lk 22:62). That must have been a moment of incredible shame for Peter.

Compare that frightened man with the confident apostle who emerged from the upper room and preached to the crowds in Jerusalem on the feast of Pentecost: “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed ...” (Acts 2:14). Only weeks earlier, he was frightened of being associated with Jesus. Now, before peoples of many nations, he proclaims the risen Christ: “This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him. But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it.”

Those are bold words. “He, who could not endure the questioning of a poor girl,” stated St. John Chrysostom, “now discourses with such great confidence in the middle of people all breathing murder upon him.” And then the great Greek Father remarks: “This in itself became an indisputable proof of the Resurrection.”

There is no reasonable natural explanation for the change. The reason, of course, was supernatural: “For wherever the Holy Spirit is present, people of clay are changed into people of gold.” The Holy Spirit had confirmed what God the Father had accomplished through the Son: “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

Peter had once rejected the divine plan and the way of the cross, earning himself a harsh rebuke (Mt 16:21-23). The contrast here is also vivid: While Peter had once spurned God’s audacious plan of sacrifice and death, he eventually professed and confessed it — strongly and publicly. “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses,” Peter said, “Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured him forth, as you see and hear.” That is not the language of dialogue or proposition, but of decision and proclamation. The Gospel is not a suggestion, but a firm invitation to make a choice: to believe in the risen Lord, Jesus Christ, or to turn away into darkness.

The contrast is also evident in Peter’s first epistle. Many of his readers had converted from pagan background; Peter referred to their previous lives of “futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors ...;” the pagan gods and ways could not provide real hope and salvation. “Perishable things like silver and gold” will fade in the face of death and judgment. In contrast, “the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb” is the only means by which everlasting communion with God can be restored.

The Gospel provides the same contrast. While the disciples spoke of the death of Jesus, the risen Christ joined them; yet they were blind to “the truth concerning” Jesus’ life and death (cf. Lk 1:4). Jesus walked with them, spoke with them and then broke bread with them — which is why they later told the others how Christ “was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” They were transformed and made anew. Once people of clay, they were changed into people of gold.

Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.