Third Sunday of Easter
1) Acts 5:27-32, 40-41
Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-13
2) Rv 5:11-14
Gospel: Jn 21:1-19 or 21:1-14
Persecution is part and parcel of Christian discipleship. After Jesus foretold that his disciples would share in the persecutions that brought him to a violent death on the cross, they personally discovered this truth of Christian faith.
The apostles also came to learn the cost of discipleship as they faced rejection and martyrdom in response to their preaching of the life-giving words of Jesus. And as the first Christian communities spread like wildfire across the Roman Empire, they experienced violent oppression from the political rulers of the day.
One record of the persecutions suffered by the early followers of Jesus is found in the art on the walls of the ancient Roman catacombs. Beneath the Eternal City of Rome can be found a vast maze of underground rooms and tunnels extending for hundreds of miles below the city surface.
In those subterranean spaces the first Christians fled Roman persecution, gathered for worship, and buried their martyrs and popes. The biblical images they painted on the catacomb walls connected them to the persecutions of Old Testament figures, like Daniel in the lion’s den and the three young Hebrew men condemned to a fiery furnace by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “‘The church, urged on by the Spirit of Christ, must walk the road Christ himself walked, a way of poverty and obedience, of service and self-sacrifice even to death, a death from which he emerged victorious by his resurrection.’ So it is that ‘the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians'” (No. 852).
In the first reading, the apostles are brought before the Sanhedrin and questioned about their preaching of the name of Jesus. They responded with confidence, saying, “We must obey God rather than men.”
After they were told to stop speaking in the name of Jesus and were dismissed, they left “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” This faith-filled confidence in God in persecution is echoed by the psalmist who sings, “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.”
The author of Revelation paints a dramatic picture of the countless angels and living creatures who worship Jesus, the lamb who was slain. At every Eucharist the church joins her voice to that heavenly liturgy to sing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.”
In the Gospel, the disciples face isolation after Jesus’ death and the disappointment of catching nothing after a night of fishing. When the risen Jesus appears to them, they learn that apart from Jesus they could do nothing!
As Jesus breaks bread and gives it to his disciples they realize that, as he promised, Jesus is present with them always, most especially in the breaking of the bread, the gift and mystery of the Eucharist. As we encounter the challenges of discipleship in our daily witness to faith in Jesus we pray with confident trust, “speak to me, Lord.”
What challenges do you face in your witness to faith as a disciple of Jesus?
Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.