What strikes me about this weekend’s readings is their great combination of confrontation and instruction. Clearly the first Christians, who were made into proselytising communities by their experiences of the risen Christ, were neither timid nor woolly thinkers but rather alert and active, intent on telling others about their faith in the risen Lord Jesus, and determined to spread this great news of salvation.
We find this in Acts (3:13-15, 17-19), in which Peter, in Jerusalem for Pentecost, addressed the crowds there for worship. They had just seen how Peter and John had healed the crippled beggar in Jesus’ name; and Peter then takes the amazed crowd to task, insisting that all the Jewish scriptures had promised the coming of Jesus through the work of the prophets and yet, true to form, just as they had betrayed and killed the prophets, they had done the same to Jesus. Peter; representative of the love and mercy of God, makes the point that this evil act was done in ignorance; and yet their very persecution and martyrdom of Jesus proved the fact of his divinity. Now, forgiven by his grace, they must repent and be reconciled.
Quite clearly then, as now, many people, even those who think themselves well informed about the faith, are actually very ill informed. Ancient writers record the problem of even knowing where to start, with so many coming from paganism to Christianity or from a Judaism which they did not study or know at all. Many a modern convert too, comes to the faith with only the haziest background knowledge of the faith, and indeed, many a Christian, schooled in the modern age and defeated by the onslaughts of Dawkins and the like, feel quite incapable of arguing for the faith. Clearly Peter very early on realised the significance of studying and understanding the scriptures so that converts could have a real perception of what they were doing.
In our second reading from 1 John (2:1-5), we see this significant issue raised once again, albeit in a different form as John writes of sin within the Christian community. He begins this short but electrifying letter by spelling out what the Christian is heir to – “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands – the eternal life that was with the Father and has been revealed to us.” (1:1-3). Heirs to so great and divine a gift, he then goes on to spell out the absolute necessity of knowing oneself; of turning away from one’s old life of sin, to a state where: “Anyone does obey what he has said, God’s love comes to perfection in him”. Conversion is neither automatic nor everlasting, but a process which has to be worked at daily by souls continually renewing their commitment to the risen Lord and his ways. Given divine life in the Lord, we are now set on a trajectory which orientates us to God. Perfection is not something injected into us at baptism, it is a journey to perfection which we must work at; it is a promise worth seeking and longing for, and can only be achieved by effort. I once counselled a man who said that he had ‘lost his faith’ because it was not like it was when he was seven. I responded by remarking that the faith one had at seven was hardly adequate for that required for one in their forties, and that we wouldn’t do this in any other area of our lives after all, would we! He wasn’t best pleased.
We all need to be reminded of the meaning and origins of our faith; continually refreshed, least our faith senses become dulled. This is what we see in our gospel, Luke (24:35-48). Here Jesus commands his dumbfounded disciples to reawaken their belief in him by physically touching his wounds and he then confirms his real bodily presence by eating some fish. Having done this, he takes them back to their bible to the promises given to Moses and the prophets and psalms, and, just as Peter did in Acts, makes clear to them how those ancient texts are fulfilled in his own life. They, we, it seems need a continuing and continual education in the faith. We need it for our own sakes, lest circumstances deprive us of our passion for God; we need it so that we can argue our faith persuasively to others and are equipped to present the faith in a sound and meaningful way, confounding some of the rubbish that people think we believe. There are many who quite mistakenly think we believe in a god who is an old man on a cloud; we don’t; they think we worship God out of fear; we don’t; they think that our beliefs should protect us from harm and that when it doesn’t that it has ceased to ‘work’. Just as Jesus had to remind the disciples that his suffering and death was foretold in the scriptures, and that that was God’s way of redemption and the confounding of evil, so too, we have to take on pain and suffering as an inevitable part of life in a world still in process of redemption. Our faith in the risen Jesus is not a panacea against suffering, it is the only way the Christian can make sense of it, in the knowledge that this is part and parcel of thekingdomofGodin process of redemption here and now and that in eternity we shall be fully united with him. The tragedy is that we spend hours reinventing ourselves in health clinics and sports activities; we re-hone our computer skills frequently and are not at all averse to taking on new careers or activities, yet do not apply the same diligence to our belief in Jesus. Rather than New Year’s resolutions, we need Easter resolutions, commitment to the development of our faith and the daily exercise which will in the end bring it to perfection by his grace.