3rd Sunday of Easter
The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep
his commandments. Those who say, “I know him,” but do not keep his commandments
are liars, and the truth is not in them. But whoever keeps His Word, truly has the love of God been made perfect in him. (I John: 2:4-5)
During the forty days following the stupendous event of Easter, the Risen Christ was seen not only by His Apostles, but, according to St. Paul (I Cor 15:6), He was seen once by over 500 witnesses. Indeed, their testimony could still be checked out since Paul says that most of them were still alive when he wrote this. At any rate, during this brief time Jesus was appearing not only to confirm their faith, but also to continue the instruction of his Apostles, helping them to understand the true meaning of the Scriptures, of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, all of which spoke of Him, indicating how he must suffer and rise from the dead.
Their minds had been closed to the true meaning of the sacred writings, for we know that even his Apostles were utterly surprised and stunned by both His death and resurrection. “Why are you disturbed?” He said to them on the night of his first appearance. They were disturbed because they could barely believe their own senses, that He was really risen and really standing there in their midst. He knew that they were thinking He was a ghost, and so He had to prove to them that he was not at all a ghost but a living human being.
So after showing them his hands and feet and eating some fish in front of them to prove He was a real man, He immediately began to instruct them about the scriptures which had foretold all that happened, and he continued His post-resurrection instruction right up to the day that he was taken from the this world, again in their very sight.
Then, following the events of Pentecost, these same Apostles, according to our first reading from the Book of Acts, immediately began to openly preach a Gospel of repentance for the remission of sins, a Gospel which Jesus ordered them to preach to the ends of the earth. The risen Christ is no longer present in the world in such a way that he can be seen and physically touched as He had been with them for forty days. But He remains with His Apostles and with us in a most powerful way that enabled them, and enables us, to become His witnesses and the instruments of His salvation. After Pentecost, those who had conspired to put the Author of Life to death on a cross, were suddenly confronted by these chosen men in whom Christ continued His mission, unlettered men for the most part, but men who now spoke with a fearlessness and wisdom that had its source not in them obviously , but in the Holy and Just One who sent them to proclaim His Gospel.
While the Risen One has returned to the Father, nonetheless the power of His resurrection lives on in his Apostles and all his disciples. The world had shouted for Him to come down from the Cross. The same world now asks where is the Risen Lord, if He is truly risen? God does not dance to their chants of unbelief. The world is always like those children in the market place Christ referred to, calling out to each other, because God does not meet their arbitrary demands. But Jesus Christ is truly risen, and he remains present in this world as he chooses, not as the world demands. He is present in the Eucharist, in His priesthood, in His people. He lives, in us, and through us, He continues to address His saving truth to the world.
John teaches us that Christians, beginning with the Apostles, must be witnesses to the resurrection not only in the Word they preach, but in the new, resurrected lives that they lead. Prior to the resurrection, the disciples and Apostles were like dead men, almost crushed by the enemy who had put their Lord to death. But afterwards these ignorant, vacillating and cowardly men were filled with a wisdom that confounded their enemies, and they had a courage and directness that was more than human. What was the cause of this great transformation if not the power of the resurrection?
The divine life that had surged into the dead body of Jesus in the tomb of calvary had infused it with a new, glorious and immortal life, and it is this same divine life that took hold of the Apostles on Pentecost and changed them into new men and in turned transformed all His disciples. The newness of the lives of Christians is what bears powerful witness to the truth of the Witness they gave that Jesus was raised from the dead and the truth of the Gospel.
So the same power that transformed the Apostles and early disciples is present in all who have received the Spirit of Jesus. We too, twenty centuries later, are called to bear witness to the truth of His resurrection by the new quality of life that is ours, for this newness is explainable only by the power that raised Jesus from the dead. And this is also precisely what John meant when he said that we do not truly know Jesus, if we do not keep his commandments, and when he taught that if we do keep His commandments, it is only because the love of God has been made perfect in us. “Knowing” Christ now no longer means what we normally mean by simply having an acquaintance with, like loosely knowing a friend. It is a much deeper knowledge that John speaks about here, the knowledge that comes from a most intimate and profound union of love. Jesus now truly dwells within us through His Spirit, and His Spirit is the love of God in the person of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who unites in Eternal love the Father and the Son, Jesus and the Father. This same Holy Spirit is now given to us by Christ to unite us with himself and the Father, so that we may know the Son in His love of the Father. Knowing Jesus means having the love of God perfected within us, and that cannot happen if we do not keep His commandments. Thus, John logically concludes, “Those who say, ‘I know him,’ but do not keep his commandments are liars.”
For the conversion of the world, then, it is absolutely critical that Christian should bear witness to Christ and His resurrection not only in words, but by keeping His Father’s commandments, which are also His commandments, as lovingly and obediently as Christ kept them. No one can keep the Father’s commandments with this spirit of love, with perfect and loving obedience, unless the love of God, the Holy Spirit, is made perfect in his or her heart. It is in fact the power of this love that actually raised Jesus, and it is this gift of Love that makes man capable of a truly loving obedience, and thus makes him a witness to the resurrection.
Not many attain the level of perfect obedience in this world, as did Jesus and Mary and the great saints, for while many are called, few are chosen. But God has given us Christians His Spirit, and called us to struggle so that this same Love can be made perfect in us. To the degree that it is made perfect, to that same degree are we made effective witnesses of the Resurrection. If so much of the world does not believe today, is it not because there are so few who actually bear this witness effectively, that is, by lives of loving obedience to the will of God. Greater numbers of people will begin to believe in this truth only when there are sufficient numbers of Christian men and women of every nation and people who bear witness to the love of God, not by their words alone, but by the elevated way they keep the commandments of the Lord in truly resurrected lives.