Not judged by our religion

Ultimately, we will not be judged by the religion we practice, the party we belong to, or our cultural background.

Above all, our goal is to love and honor our Creator above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Loving our neighbor includes listening to and understanding each other.

Image by Karan Kwatra

We will not be judged by what religion we practice

By Lou Occhi
Acts 4:13-21
Mark 16:9-15

Today’s readings are in reverse order. The Gospel reading from Mark precedes the reading from Acts. The Gospel reading recounts the story of the apostles and disciples on the day of the Resurrection. The reading from Acts speaks of the boldness of Peter and John in front of the Sanhedrin after the Resurrection.

The reading from Mark consists of the Reader’s Digest version of two stories found in Luke 24. Luke recounts that the apostles were all together mourning and weeping over the death of Jesus, and they were in fear for their own lives. Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene arrived at Jesus’ tomb early in the morning. She found the stone sealing the tomb rolled away and Jesus’ body no longer present. Jesus appeared to her, and she thought He was the gardener. Then Jesus called her by name, and she recognized Him. 

She ran to the apostles and told them what had happened. Just like typical men, they thought the woman was delusional. Nevertheless, Peter and John ran to the tomb and found an empty grave. Then, rather than believing that Jesus had risen, they slowly returned to the rest of the apostles and disciples.

The second story refers to Cleopus and another disciple going to Emmaus. They were about seven miles from Jerusalem when Jesus appeared to them. Luke says that their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. I can understand why they would not recognize Him. Jesus, severely disfigured, covered in blood, and hanging from the cross, is their last remembrance of Him. Surely, Jesus is the last person they expected to see. 

As they walked along, Jesus explained the scriptures to them. When they arrived at an Inn, the disciples asked Jesus to stay with them. They sat at a table to eat. Jesus said the blessing and broke the bread. At that instant, they recognized Him. Jesus then vanished. The disciples turned around and began a hasty journey back to Jerusalem. They related their story to the apostles and other disciples but still did not believe.

The first reading from Acts is in dramatic contrast to the gospel reading. To understand the context of Acts 4, we first need to look at Acts 3. Peter and John are on their way to the temple at the hour of prayer. A man lame from birth is sitting at the gate. Seeing Peter and John, he asks for alms. Peter tells him they do not have silver or gold, but he will give him what he has. Peter tells him, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk.” With a bit of assistance from Peter, he leaped up. 

He followed Peter and John into the temple, walking, leaping, and praising God. A crowd of people recognized him as the lame beggar who sat at the gate, and they were filled with amazement and wonder. Peter turned toward the crowd and boldly proclaimed that the healing occurred because of the man’s faith in the name of Jesus. 

As Peter and John were talking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees had them arrested. They were annoyed that they were preaching in Jesus’ name. This brings us to Acts 4. The next day, Annas, Caiaphas, and others of the high priestly family brought Peter and John before them. When Annas and Caiaphas saw the large crowd of witnesses to the miracle, as well as the healed cripple, they decided to let Peter and John go with a strict warning. They were no longer to preach in Jesus' name.

One common thread between both readings is division. In the gospel reading, Mary Magdalene tells the apostles she has seen Jesus. Despite Mary Magdalene’s testimony, they do not believe He has resurrected. The apostle’s reaction is similar to Cleopus’ and his companion’s testimony. All this is despite Jesus previously telling the apostles that he would rise on the third day. 

The apostles divided themselves from their friends who told them they had seen the risen Jesus because they would not listen. In the reading from Acts, Peter and John cure a man crippled from birth. Annas and Caiaphas want Peter and John to stop preaching in the name of Jesus simply because their healing of the cripple does not fit in with their narrative about Jesus.

Today, we are in a similar situation. There is tremendous division among people all over the world, much of it in the form of violence. I remember Fr. Don Dilg saying that the word demon derives from the word division.

There are many different divisions in our world. The major divisions are in religion, politics, and culture. Many are on one side or the other of these and many other topics. Can we end division? No! So, what can we do? Frequently we find friends or family who have opposing views to our own. Discussing the issue with them can sometimes turn heated. Why? It is because both parties are not pausing to listen to each other. We need to listen, try to understand what each other believes, and appreciate that everyone has a right to their own point of view. 

Ultimately, we will not be judged by what religion we practice, the party we belong to, or our cultural background. Above all, our goal is to love and honor our Creator above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Loving our neighbor includes listening to and understanding each other.

One last gem from today’s readings comes from the gospel. Cleopas and his companion did not recognize Jesus until the breaking of the bread. It reminded me how little I pay attention to the moment at mass when the priest holds up the broken Eucharist and the chalice of consecrated wine before the Eucharist is distributed. It should take my breath away and allow me to recognize His presence before my opened eyes just as it did to Cleopus and his companion.

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