Monday, April 27, 2009



3rd Sunday of Easter (B)
Effective Medicine


Readings: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48

Dear sisters and brothers, have you ever suffered a very persistent bout of the flu? I recently heard someone talk about such an experience. He said he’d already taken several courses of antibiotics, but even after many weeks, he still didn’t feel one hundred percent. He also said that it was probably because he’d been working too hard. He’d not been taking enough rest.

Which reminds me of two pieces of advice that I’ve received in the past regarding effective medicine. The first is an old Chinese proverb that goes liang yao ku kou (良药苦口), or good medicine is bitter to the taste. Which probably explains why many of us continue taking antibiotics even if it’s seldom a pleasant experience. The second piece of advice is from a musical produced in the sixties that was made into a movie, which I watched as a child. Some of you may remember Mary Poppins, and the song entitled A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down. There’s much wisdom in that, don’t you think? My sick friend’s need for rest is probably a case in point.

Taken together, these two pieces of advice tell us that effective medicine needs to be both bitter and sweet. And this seems also to be the experience of the people in our readings today. There are at least two groups who are feeling unwell. In the gospel, the disciples are still suffering the traumatic effects of having witnessed the shameful execution of Jesus, in whom they had invested all their hopes and dreams for a better life. And even though the Risen Christ had already appeared to several of them – including, most recently, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus – even though he had consoled them and administered to them his own powerful brand of antibiotics, they are still feeling under the weather. The Easter joy that we talked about in our opening prayer just now is still not yet an enduring experience for them. And the condition of the people that Peter addresses in the first reading is probably even more serious. Not only do they have no experience of the Risen Christ at all, they don’t even realize the depth of their need for him. How do these persistent ailments find their cure?

In both cases, there is a painful pill to swallow, a pill that is bitter in two respects. First, there is the need to acknowledge, not only that Jesus died, but also that those who are ill are somehow implicated in his death. The author of life you put to death… says Peter to his listeners. And even if the disciples did not actually kill their master, in the gospel, they remain burdened by the shame and guilt of having abandoned him. Isn’t this why they are so fearful when at first they mistake the Risen Christ for a ghost? Wouldn’t the presence of a ghost simply serve to remind them of the terrible consequences of their cowardice?

But that is not all. For the cure to be complete, a second form of bitterness needs to be submitted to. Again we find this in both the first reading and the gospel. It’s a key theme in Luke’s accounts of the resurrection. It consists in the conviction that it was necessary that the Christ should suffer… And this is difficult to accept, perhaps more difficult even than our own responsibility for the death of Christ. For if suffering and death are truly an inescapable part of Christ’s human experience, can it be any different for us who claim to follow him? 良药苦口: effective medicine is bitter to the taste.

Thankfully, however, the cure is not all bitter. Actually, unlike many of our modern sugar coated pills, which are sweet only on the outside, but bitter on the inside (which is why we don’t chew them), the core of the Easter message is one of joy, as is the experience of the disciples in the gospel. For the one administering the precious cure to them is not a ghost but someone whom they can experience in a very real way, one who is truly alive. In the words of Peter, you put (him) to death, but God raised him from the dead… The disciples’ fear is changed into incredulous joy and amazement, for in the Risen Christ they find that their mistakes have somehow been neutralized. And not just neutralized but even used to bring about a greater good. They have an intimate experience of what the awesome power of God can do even in the face of human weakness and sin. Much more than a spoonful of sugar, the disciples experience the sublime sweetness of the Resurrection.

And what, we may ask, is the sure sign that they are on the road to recovery? Is it not the fact that, in the first reading, we find them doing exactly what Jesus tells them to do in the gospel? Both in word and in deed, and in the name of Christ, they preach to all the nations the good news of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Does this mean that they will never again suffer relapses, never again know the experience of sin? Is this our own experience? Probably not. But, as we are told in the second reading if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one… And this too is part of the sweetness of the Easter message.

But there is something more to say isn’t there? For combating sickness is not just about seeking a cure after we fall ill. Perhaps even more importantly, it is also about disease prevention. It is about cultivating a healthy lifestyle, such that we will be less vulnerable to viruses. Again the second reading spells out for us what this healthy lifestyle looks like in the spiritual realm. It consists in knowing the Crucified and Risen Christ. And the way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments: the great commandment of love, expressed especially in obedience to Christ’s commandment to share with others, as Peter and the first disciples did, the gift of healing that we have all received. For our world today, marked as it is by diseases of all kinds -- diseases such as greed and selfishness, loneliness and poverty -- is truly in dire need of this same healing.

Sisters and brothers, today how might we deepen our experience of this bittersweet cure of Easter, so that we might better share it with others?

2 comments:

  1. Fr Chris, thanks for this beautiful homily.

    This reminds me of a few things. One thing is "the sign of contradiction". Another is "catechism classes" - how the teenagers I'm helping to teach are more receptive when the lesson is spiced up with a few jokes, an interesting story, a game/competition, remembering their names, little treats, etc.

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  2. Fr Chris,

    "Bittersweet" is the word I need now to describe the experience of knowing the joy and hope of being in relationship with the Risen Christ, yet unable to share this Loving Presence with the child I love--as she is still stuck in the tomb of deep hurt from a failed relationship, which makes her unable to open up to the sweetness of God's fatherly love and healing.

    More than repeated doses of man-made sugar-coated antibiotics to appease the bug of resentment, or the tranquiliser of earthly distractions to numb the pain of feeling unloved, what is needed is no less than the divine fire of the Holy Spirit of Love to transform hurt into hope, and pain into possibilities, to bring out a new dance from the ashes of tears, and liberation from the grave of un-forgiveness--to find New Life awaiting.

    Maybe Mary Poppins could make an appearance in her life and help clean up the messy situation :) ...her joyful song certainly brought a smile to my face and much needed encouragement. Thank you.

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