Today’s scripture readings open with the scene of Saint Peter preaching to a large group of people in Jerusalem on the feast of Pentecost. Pentecost was one of the three pilgrimage feasts that required Jewish men (often joined by their entire family) to make a trek to the Holy City, and so it was typical for Jerusalem to be packed with visitors from all over Israel and farther afield on these occasions: “there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem” (Acts 2:5).
Noting that the Spirit had just descended upon him and the other ten apostles, Peter stood up and began to explain to the rapidly growing crowd how King David himself, via the Psalms, had prophesied the coming of the messiah who would be raised up by God: “since he was a prophet … he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld nor did his flesh see corruption”—and Peter adds that Jesus was this messiah (Acts 2:30-31, 32).
We must remember that when Jesus’ passion came about and he did not turn out to be the sort of messiah the people expected, Peter had failed to trust in the very same wonders and signs he would later proclaim to his audience in Jerusalem: “the Lord turned and looked at Peter; and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ He went out and began to weep bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62). Now, with the benefit of hindsight Peter claims to the crowd: “Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs, which God worked through him in your midst” (Acts 2:22).
Peter’s speech in Jerusalem gives us encouragement not simply because of its eloquence but because it is delivered by a person who had previously denied the Lord and run away from him at his moment of greatest need, just as we tend to run away from the Lord and our faith at difficult times in life. If there is hope for Peter, then there is hope for us as well.
Turning to the Gospel we find that Jesus’ messiahship is explained by the Lord himself as he accompanies two disciples on their way to Emmaus, a long walk from Jerusalem. During this journey he appeared somehow different to them: “Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him,” and it was only when they paused for the evening at Emmaus that the two disciples finally recognized the risen Jesus, who meanwhile had been recounting the scriptures’ anticipation of him as the messiah: “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:15-16, 27).
Today’s two distinct recountings of Jesus’ messiahship remind us that whether we run away from the Lord at low points in our lives, like Peter did, or fail to recognize his ever-abiding presence among us, as the disciples on the way to Emmaus did, there is always the chance for a new beginning. It is appropriate that on this Sunday in the Easter season—the source of all our hope—we ask our Lord for the gift of finding his presence in our lives so that we may be lifted up by this message and say together with the disciples: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Artwork: Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio, 1601, London