St Peter declared before the religious leaders, “For all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved.” This is indeed a very bold declaration, considering that Peter and John were fishermen, uneducated and timid when Jesus was arrested, and now they could stand before the great intellectuals, nobilities and the aristocratic class and announce so confidently that Jesus is risen and that He is the Saviour of all. This is certainly unthinkable! No one in the right frame of mind would attempt such a feat. In fact, it appeared that Peter was the judge and the audience was being put on trial instead.
Today, in the context of promoting religious harmony, it is even more difficult for Christians to make the statement that Jesus is the Saviour of humanity. We could be accused of being triumphalistic and creating disharmony and ill-will among adherents of other religions and even those without religion. We are in a dilemma. Not to proclaim the truth about Jesus would be to deny our faith in Him and about Him. However, to do so might create misunderstanding and provoke hostility with other religions.
That is why it is important to appreciate the context of this statement. If the apostles came to declare Jesus as the unique redeemer of all, it was because of the resurrection. St Peter said, “If you are questioning us today about an act of kindness to a cripple, and asking us how he was healed, then I am glad to tell you all, and would indeed be glad to tell the whole people of Israel, that it was by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the one you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name and by no other that this man is able to stand up perfectly healthy, here in your presence today. This is the stone rejected by you the builders, but which has proved to be the keystone.”
So it is faith in the crucified Christ that was raised by the Father that gave the basis for this declaration that Jesus is the Saviour of All. With His resurrection, it means that all the claims of Jesus with regard to His identity, His ministry and His coming to this creation have become clear to all. That He was condemned as a criminal, raised from the dead, means that He is Lord, for no one has ever come back to life. Since God is the author of life, He is therefore vindicated as the Lord and Saviour of all. Through His death, He has saved us from our sins by revealing to us the mercy and forgiveness of God for all.
Without faith in the resurrection of Jesus, this claim of the universal significance of Jesus cannot be substantiated. So the Christian declaration of Jesus as the Lord of all presupposes this belief in His resurrection. So we are not denigrating other religions or imposing our faith on others but speaking from our personal conviction. Faith remains an invitation. It is offered as a gift to those who are receptive to faith in Jesus.
What, then, is preventing us from being receptive to the fact of Jesus’ resurrection? In the first reading, we can understand the fears of the priests and the Sadducees. They were closely aligned with the Roman authorities. The Romans were quite tolerant of their beliefs and customs so long as they did not create disorder. Hence, the commotion that Peter and John started with the healing of the crippled man caused them to be anxious that the Roman soldiers might step in to put down any unrest arising from that, resulting in an erosion of their authority. That was why “the priests came up to him, accompanied by the captain of the Temple and the Sadducees” to put a stop to such a gathering. It was a threat to their status quo and position.
Secondly, they did not believe in the doctrine of the resurrection. “They were extremely annoyed at their teaching the people the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead by proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus.” The teaching of Peter and John was an affront to their beliefs and confusing the people, causing them to lose their religious status and authority. Furthermore, “many of those who had listened to their message became believers, the total number of whom had now risen to something like five thousand.” Surely that was a concern.
We too must ask ourselves sincerely what is preventing us from submitting to faith in the resurrection. Even though many of us profess to be Catholic, deep in our hearts, do we truly believe that the Lord has been raised from the dead? If so, why is it that many of us are still so afraid of death when it is the gateway to the fullness of life? Why is it that we still cling so much to this world, our wealth, our power, status and glory as if these are the guarantees for happiness. So, among us Catholics, many of us are weak in our conviction of Jesus’ resurrection, not to speak of those who are non-believers. At most, we accept this as a datum of faith verbally but not in our hearts. Otherwise, we would be ready to die for our faith in Jesus.
Indeed, today, we need to once again, evince for ourselves the truth of the resurrection by considering the signs that can strengthen our faith in Christ’s resurrection. Firstly, we note the change in the apostles. From being cowards, fearful for their lives and the authorities; they were ready to stand before them, full of confidence, speaking of what they truly believed in their hearts. That is why the claim of deception by the apostles, about how they stole the body away and then claimed that He was resurrected, could not stand as no one would dare to do what they did unless they had encountered the Risen Lord.
Secondly, the man who was crippled from birth was standing before them, healthy and able to walk again. Peter and John said he was healed in the name of the Lord Jesus, not by their own strength. What they did was a continuation of what the Lord did before His death. After His resurrection, the Lord continued to work His miracles through the apostles who healed in His name. Miracles, especially of healing, remain an important testimony to the power of God at work in our lives. Such miracles attest to the reality of the resurrection of our Lord. Many who have been healed by the Lord will affirm with utter conviction that Jesus is their Lord and savior.
Thirdly, there was the repetition of the miracle of the catch of fish. They had “caught nothing that night.” Then at dawn, “there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.” He bade them to do what He told them before, to lay down their nets. Upon doing so, they had such an enormous catch. Immediately, the disciple Jesus loved sensed His presence and said to Peter, “’It is the Lord’. At these words ‘It is the Lord,’ Simon Peter, who had practically nothing on, wrapped his cloak round him and jumped into the water.” When we think of previous miraculous events that happened in our lives, then we too will recount how we also have encountered the Risen Lord many times as well, but we forget so easily.
Fourthly, the Risen Lord invited them to a meal. “Jesus then stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish. This was the third time that Jesus showed himself to the disciples after rising from the dead.” The bread represents the Eucharist that Jesus celebrated with the disciples at the Last Supper when He told them to continue to celebrate it so that He could be present with them again in a personal manner. And of course, the Greek word for fish is “ixthus” or “icthus.” These five Greek letters form an acrostic, “Jesus Christ is God’s Son, the Savior”. It is always in the Eucharist or in Christian fellowship that intimacy with the Lord leads to a personal encounter in faith and love.