HOMILY – APRIL 26
In order to better understand what’s going on in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we need to situate it in context. In speaking to the Jewish leaders and elders, Peter makes reference to “a good deed done to a cripple.” This wasn’t just any cripple. This was a man who was well known by everyone who went to the Temple. We learn from chapter 3 that he had been crippled from birth. Every day, he was carried–by relatives or neighbors, we don’t know–to the so-called “Beautiful Gate” of the Temple and was positioned there to beg. He was even more familiar to everybody than some of our street corner beggars along the freeway are to us. Over many years, people had grown up knowing whom you meant if you spoke of “the beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple.” When he was cured through the ministry of Peter and John, it was a spectacular demonstration of the power of the name of Jesus. He not only stood up and walked, he leaped! He jumped! He bounced around like he was on a pogo stick! All the while, he was praising God. It was clearly an act of divine intervention, God responding to the invocation of his Son’s holy Name. And when people saw it, they were amazed. They knew this to be the very same crippled man whom they had encountered, Sabbath after Sabbath, as they went to Temple.
And that all gave rise to Peter’s speech, the one we heard in the first reading. This, he says, is a sign performed so that people may believe in the power of the name of Jesus, and thus in Jesus’ mission of redemption and salvation. He connects them to their whole history in the Old Testament, making references to the prophets, to Moses, to Abraham. This is not a BREAK with the past, this is the FULFILLMENT. A butterfly is not a different genus and species than the caterpillar; it’s the fulfillment! The caterpillar does not die, it’s not replaced by the butterfly. Similarly, the Old Covenant does not come to an end, but finds its true meaning and completion in the New.
Jesus himself speaks in the Gospel of his New Covenant mission as the Good Shepherd. Here he speaks of his sheep knowing his voice and following him. In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 15, we hear a parable of a good shepherd who goes out in search of the stray. Jesus shows himself to be a true Son of David, the most famous king of Israel, who had his humble beginnings as a shepherd for his father Jesse. And Peter and John go on to show that God is glorified when the name of Jesus is invoked on behalf of the lowliest and most forgotten of his sheep. The man who was crippled from birth is bouncing off the walls of the Temple! And this has been done in the name of the One who has the power to make all things new. Not a single sheep is forgotten.
Some might ask, “Well, there were many other beggars and many other cripples. Why didn’t the Apostles go around curing them ALL? That would have been a useful thing to do.” We have to remember that miracles are never performed just to heal the sick and infirm. There are worse things than physical illness and suffering, no matter how severe; and the Lord who shows us that he has the power to heal and to raise from the dead ALSO has complete power over the spiritual realm, and can forgive sins. Much more important, because now we’re talking about ETERNAL life and ETERNAL happiness, not just a temporary remedy for an earthly problem. The fact is, as St. John reminds us in the second reading, we can be called children of God because of the love the Father has bestowed on us. We, the people of God, we’ve already died with Christ in the waters of baptism. We’re already living the new, risen life. Physical death has no more hold over us. Hence the martyrs, the ones centuries ago, and the ones suffering martyrdom today in Syria and Iraq and Pakistan and Nigeria and Kenya, they are just entering the new phase of that life which they already received at baptism. If that doesn’t excite you, if your life as a Christian just seems humdrum and ordinary, if you routinely find other things more important than your Christian faith, well, my friend, you’ve given in to the temptation which the wolves of this world are always setting before us, to say, “No big deal!” to Christ and his Church. And that’s a pretty sad state of affairs for someone who received a mission at baptism to set the world on fire with God’s love.
The good news is that our Good Shepherd is always seeking you out. The renewal of your mind and heart is just as possible through the power of Jesus’ name as it was for that crippled man to be healed, the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. You ARE a child of God, how you’ve neglected that fact up to this point is irrelevant. God wants to breathe his Spirit upon you and within you and call you to LIFE. He wants your renewed and resurrected heart to be leaping around inside your chest, he wants you to be amazed and say, “Wow! Where is THIS coming from?” He wants you to be the new creation that Christ died for you to be. He wants you to start living on earth with the knowledge that there’s a party being thrown in heaven over one more sinner who has repented. That sinner is YOU, my friend. It’s ME. It’s EACH of us. And the Lord Jesus is not about to give up on any one of us as long as we’re drawing breath, and maybe even some after that, knowing his mercy as we do. Don’t be afraid to proclaim the power of Jesus’ name, in your own way, in your own circumstances. Sometimes just saying to a co-worker, “Hey, God is good!” is a more powerful witness than hours of sermons or a boatload of encyclicals. Every day, you are writing your chapter in the Lives of the Saints. God intends it. The world is waiting for it. Make it inspiring. Make it classy. You’ve got all the help you need, right here in the Eucharist.