3rd Sunday of Easter

Groundbreaking events are pioneering and revolutionary. They shake the world up, have tremendous repercussions, and impact the world in unforeseen ways. Groundbreaking events cause people to begin thinking and acting differently. They cause us to reevaluate our beliefs and challenge our preconceived notions. Groundbreaking events change our culture and the way we perceive the world.


Groundbreaking events can happen to individuals or small groups, like Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the western hemisphere or Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. They revolutionize warfare, like the invention of gunpowder and nuclear weapons. They transform buildings like the Pyramids and the Empire State Building.


Easter was the most extraordinary groundbreaking event in all of history, and the rumblings from its impact are still shaking the world today. Think of it! Easter is when a thirty-three-year-old Jewish carpenter from a tiny village in an out-of-the-way part of the world rose from the dead. After being beaten brutally, He carried the heavy instrument of His death through the street until He came to His place of execution. There He was nailed to the cross and forced to hang until He suffocated from the weight of His own body pressing on His chest.


His life seemed over and done with. Any impact He could have made on the world would seem too quickly and quietly be swept away in the breeze. Then on the third day, something unheard of happened. His followers found His tomb empty. Then over the next fifty days, He appeared to them, not in His old resuscitated body, not as a ghost, but in a resurrected body that bore His death wounds. 


That event’s impact has reached the four corners of our world. Today almost two Millennium after the event- a third of the world, over a billion people- say they follow Jesus. A man who never wielded political or military power, wrote a book, or held any wealth still impacts the world like no other person. 


Jesus had such a great impact on human beings because He was who He claimed to be. He said He was the Son of God. Jesus predicted His death and that God would raise Him from the dead on the third day. That is what happened, and even more astonishingly, He told His followers who believed in Him and shared His good news they too would rise from the dead at the end of time.


Jesus’ resurrection was groundbreaking because it also started the events that would lead to the founding of the Christian Church. It would lead to forming a group of Jesus followers who spread the message He shared with them. They shared the belief that every human being was precious to God no matter their background. It is a gospel that teaches people to love their enemies and turn the other cheek to those who despise them. These followers spread the message we need to form a community that works for right relationships with each other and is merciful towards everyone. A group of people trying to understand different people’s points of view, work together to form a community and put their relationship with God ahead of everything else in life. We haven’t always lived up to that call, and Christians are criticized for it, but can you name any group, religion, or organization that has been more successful? No, but we must keep trying to be even more faithful to Jesus’ message.


During these five weeks of Easter, I’ve told you that the theme of my homilies is “Groundbreaking”. Every Easter, the Church asks us to rediscover the need to pattern our Christian life after the groundbreaking example of the early disciples. It invites us to rediscover the practices and principles the early Christians followed to live out Jesus’ gospel message. Those principles transformed the world and continue to do so today.


We learn about the way of life adopted by the early Church in a book of the Bible called the Acts of the Apostles. Our first reading comes from the Hebrew scriptures during most of the year, but it comes from the Book of Acts during the Easter season.


If you don’t have much experience reading the Bible, the Book of Acts is a great place to begin. It’s written in a narrative style that makes it easy to understand. This Easter Season, start using it to enrich your prayer. Read a few verses about how the early disciples lived their faith life and ask God for grace to imitate them.


I need to give you a little background before doing that with the Acts passage we heard read today. Immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples were frightened. They locked themselves in a house because they feared the religious authorities would arrest them and kill them as they did to Jesus. Jesus appeared to them several times before he ascended back to heaven, which gave them courage. Finally, on Pentecost, they received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit envigorated them so much that they overcame their fear of persecution and bravely began to preach about Jesus.


Last week we heard how Peter and the other apostles went into the Temple and preached the Good News. Most people were too afraid to become followers of Jesus, but some did. The apostles began to heal people, and that drew even larger crowds. They gained such a large following that they drew the attention of the religious authorities.


Sure enough, the authorities had Peter and John arrested and thrown in prison overnight with a plan to put them on trial the following day. While the two were sitting in their cell, an angel came and led them out past the guards to freedom. The next morning when the Sanhedrin sent for the two prisoners, they weren’t in their cell. An observer pointed out to the guard that Peter and John were back at their usual place preaching in the Temple. The guards arrested Peter and John again. That is where we pick up their story again.


In today’s reading, Peter and John are standing before the court of the Sanhedrin, and the religious authorities are scolding them for disobeying their command not to speak about Jesus. Then Peter says something quite surprising. He responds, “We must obey God rather than men.” This is the same Peter who, on the night of Jesus’ trial, had denied knowing Jesus three times. Now filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter doesn’t try to talk his way out of trouble. He boldly says that he and the other apostles can’t obey men. They must obey God and only God. Peter proclaims there before the most powerful men in the land that obedience to God and Jesus Christ’s teachings will be the driving force in his life now.


That was groundbreaking. Saying being obedient to God and not to other human beings was revolutionary. Making obedience to God the driving force in their lives turned the world in a new direction for the apostles. Shouldn’t that be the driving force in our lives too! Shouldn’t we always be striving to do the will of God? Wouldn’t it be good to use the principle of obeying God to govern all our actions?


So often, we do just the opposite. When we make decisions for our lives, we follow other people’s will, not God. We even submit to the will of other people we don’t like or respect. We allow advertisers, social media influencers, or celebrities to be the driving force behind our choices in life. We allow influences to lead us to make moral decisions that we know are wrong and run counter to God’s will for us. We choose to go with the crowd rather than be true to our moral compass.


Remember how when we were in school, we submitted to peer pressure? We sought to be part of the crowd and allowed ourselves to act in ways we knew hurt ourselves and other people. Maybe we ostracized a classmate because they were different, didn’t work up to our full potential, or gave into behavior that damaged us physically or emotionally because we wanted to be accepted by others. We tried to impress people we didn’t like or respect. We can’t even remember who they were today, but we felt it was more important to impress them than be true to our hearts.


Well, it isn’t any different for us today. Even now, we let others influence our decisions, and we fail to obey what we know is God’s will. Maybe we are here in church today because we need God’s grace to reinforce our determination to obey God and not man. We have some tough decisions to make, and we struggle to do what is right. It will be hard to decide to do what we know is God’s will, and it probably would be easier to do man’s will. It isn’t always easy to stand out from the crowd, but God wants us to be open to receive the strength to obey God. We need God’s presence in our lives to step out of our comfort zone and embrace God’s will and allow ourselves to be a visible witness to God.


We admire people who have the will to display courageous faith, go against the grain, and speak truth to power in obedience to God. We respect people who stand on their principles and won’t compromise what they believe even when it causes them pain. Even though it might not always be to the benefit of our short-term strategic position, it might cost us money, a friendship, or status. When we strive to obey God, it will bear great fruit.


Today’s gospel story illustrates that point well. The disciples have decided to go back to fishing. They work hard at it all night but have no success. Then Jesus appears on the shore, even though they fail to recognize Him. When He instructs them to throw their net to the right side of the boat, they obey Jesus and gather an overwhelming catch. When we are obedient and take instruction from Jesus on God’s will for us, we will be overwhelmed by God’s generosity. There is an incredible response of grace from God when we take our baptismal call seriously and do God’s will for us and the world.


The members of the early Church were groundbreakers because they moved beyond their fear of other people. They dared to stand out from the crowd, confront those who tried to silence them, be counter-cultural, and put obedience to God’s word and will at the center of their lives. If we do the same, we will be blessed, the number of Jesus’ followers will grow today just as they did in the early Church, and the Kingdom of God Christ founded on earth will grow and be strong.