Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year C 2019
The Book of Apocalypse is the most misunderstood book in the Bible. Many readers do the book a disservice by reading meaning into it. They call it the book of rapture, the book about the end of the world. Mental health patients like the book because it helps them to hallucinate. But what is the book really about? First, let’s begin with the title. Apocalypse comes from the Greek word Apokalypsis meaning to unveil, to take off the veil, to reveal something hidden.
To give us an idea, think about the wedding ceremony in early Greece or Rome, where the Bride isn’t known to the Groom until her wedding day. She comes to the wedding hall in a veil. Her Groom unveils her in order to know her and behold her beauty. This image is an allegorical interpretation of the Book of Apocalypse. It is the book about the Groom, the Risen Lord unveiling His Bride, the Church. But the difference is the Lord reveals His Bride to His Bride.
He knows the Bride. She is the work of His hands. But the Bride doesn’t fully know Herself. For She is His Bride – actuality, but at the same, She is becoming His Bride – potentiality. This is the hidden truth Apocalypse unveils. In actuality, She is best described by the word of 1 Peter 2:9-10, “She is a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called her out of the darkness into His wonderful light….”
In potentiality, She looking forward to the resurrected life, a life John describes in the Second Reading from Apocalypse 5:11-14, “Then I heard all the living things in creation – everything that lives in the air and on the ground, and under the ground, and in the sea, crying, ‘To the One who is sitting on the throne and to the Lamb, be all praise, honour, glory and power, for ever and ever’… the four animals said, Amen… the elders prostrated themselves to worship”.
The common denominator for the actual state and the potential state is praise. We were created to praise God. This is captured very well in the priestly account of the creation narrative in Genesis 1, where the whole creation is in procession to the Sabbath Day, the Day we praise God. Notice in the Second Reading, the elements of creation are mentioned. Again, they are in procession, crying out to the One who sits on the throne (the Risen Lord), praise, honour, glory.
Praise is liturgical language. It is the language of the Mass. It is our true mother tongue as Catholics. Anthropologically, mother tongue is crucial to the formation of our personality, our cultural integration, our learning and emotional development. Thus, when we stop speaking our mother tongue, we lose our cultural roots, our identity and worth. And this has negative consequences on us. It dehumanises us, leaves us dysfunctional and we give in to bad praise.
Bad praise is the praise of creatures instead of the Creator. It is giving to creatures what is not their due. Consequently, inflating our ego and making us inhuman. The disciples in the First Reading from Acts 5:27-32, 40-41 were aware of this that is why they didn’t stop praising God even when the Sanhedrin commanded them never to praise God again. They were glad to suffer humiliation for the sake of the name (praise God) than to suffer the consequences of bad praise.
In the Gospel Reading from John 21: 1-14, we encounter “night”, a symbol of bad praise. The disciples caught nothing at night. This is the point of Psalm 127:1-2, “Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do its builders toil. Unless the Lord guards the city, in vain does the guard stay awake. It is in vain that you rise up early and stay up late, putting off your rest, toiling for your hard-earned bread, for he provided for His loved ones even when they are asleep”.
His loved ones are those who praise Him. This piece of information helps us to understand why it was the disciple Jesus loved that said to Peter, “It is the Lord”. Perhaps, John could listen, recognise and do what the Lord asked because he has been praising the Lord. Peter who at this point was naked because he had given up his cloak of right praise decided to pick up his cloak again and swam to the Lord. The Church Fathers interpret this text as an image of the baptismal life.
For in baptism we rejected Satan and bad praise. We accepted the Lord and we became a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called us out of the darkness into His wonderful light. So, the white garment we wore at baptism is our Christian dignity and mission to praise God. With it, we can swim like Peter to the shores where Christ is waiting for us. He is not indifferent to the consequences of bad praise. He is calling out to us, “Have you caught anything, friends?”
This is a leading question that reveals the emptiness and futile nature of bad praise. Today, He asks me and you the same question, “Have you caught anything by turning Sunday, the Day of the Lord into sport activity day for your kids? Have you caught anything by sitting at home walking your dog, mowing your lawn instead of coming to praise Me at Mass? Have you caught anything by jumping out of bed and getting into the day’s activities without praising Me?”
“And when they answered ‘No’, He said, ‘Throw the net out to starboard and you will find something.’ So, they dropped the net, and there were so many fish that they could not haul it in”. Like the disciples, when we listen to the Lord and do what He asks of us – right praise, things begin to happen in our lives that will not only surprise us but will also positively embarrass us. Let’s recognise God as our Creator who is worthy of our time, talent, and treasure.
Fr. Francis Afu