Looking intently at the brokenness in myself and in my neighbor and finding my truest identity in the Crucified-Risen Savior
An Easter Reflection
Fr. Maximilian Buonocore, OSB
An important theme in Acts 3:1-10 is “looking intently.” Peter and John looked intently at the man lame from birth and the lame man looked intently at them. After the miraculous cure the crowd looked intently at Peter and John. The man born lame looked intently at Peter and John with the expectation of receiving money, but Peter said to him, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” Peter looked intently at him, recognizing his identity. I feel certain that Peter performed the miraculous healing of the man lame from birth, not primarily as a demonstration of the power of the Spirit of Christ working through him, but as a recognition of a shared identity. I believe that Peter’s words and the miraculous healing flowed from Peter’s identifying in faith with the identity of the Crucified-Risen Lord, whose identity is revealed most intimately in that suffering man lame from birth; in the same way that Jesus’ healings, when he was on earth, flowed from his own intimate identification with the suffering person with himself. It is to Jesus also that Peter later directs the attention of the crowd in Solomon’s Portico. The crowd looked intently at Peter and John with the amazement of having seen power go forth from them. But Peter redirects their attention away from himself and John to the one who is the source of the healing spirit: the Crucified-Risen Lord, Jesus Christ, saying, “. . .why do you look so intently at us as if we had made him walk by our own power or piety?” It is to Jesus as the Crucified-Risen Lord and source of the Spirit of healing that Peter draws the attention of the crowd, and thereby draws their attention to the identity that is theirs in the Crucified-Risen Lord through faith. We hear about the identity of the Crucified-Risen Lord in the Book of Revelation which says, “Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne . . . a Lamb that seemed to have been slain.” In his glorified state, the wounds of crucifixion shine forth to proclaim his identity. When the Risen Lord appeared to his Apostles, his identity was confirmed by the presence of the wounds of crucifixion: “. . . he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced . . .” And to Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” It was precisely his wounds which identified the risen Lord as their Lord of mercy and God of love. When Peter offered the healing Spirit of Christ to the man lame from birth, he was offering to that man, not what was his own, but what he already shared in common with that man: their mutual identity in the Crucified-Risen Lord. The healing, as miraculous as it was, was not the essence of what was taking place at that moment. The true miracle that was taking place at that moment is the miracle of redemptive suffering endowed with resurrection life. It is the manifestation of the Passion of the Crucified-Risen One as strong as death, and the longing of the love of a Creator-Redeemer as fierce as Sheol. “Its arrows are arrows of fire, flames of the divine. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor rivers sweep it away.” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7) The Passion and Death of Christ manifests a love stronger than death, and bestows resurrectional life, even in the here and now. Faith in Jesus is not just a consent to a belief in the power of Jesus to save. Faith in Jesus Christ as Messiah and Son of God is not just a belief system, but is a sharing in a Passion as strong as death and a Spirit of Love as unquenchable as Sheol, because such a faith is a sharing in the very identity and life of the Crucified-Risen Savior. So it is that our faith should never be reduced to just a belief system, but should become ever increasingly a most intimate and personal identity: a most intimate and personal identification with the Crucified-Risen Lord, not only in our moments of heartfelt joy, but especially through our earthly sufferings which fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24) Faith is a shared identity, shared in the Body of Christ. Faith recognizes this identity even in brokenness. Faith recognizes the identity of the Crucified-Risen Lord in our broken/wounded neighbor and in our own personal brokenness. And as we hear in the Gospel reading (Luke 24:13-35), faith recognizes the identity of the Crucified-Risen Lord also in the broken/opened Scriptures, and in the broken/Eucharistic bread. Just as faith allowed Peter to encounter Christ through the broken/suffering man lame from birth, so faith inflamed the hearts of the disciples as Jesus broke open the Scriptures to them on the way, and faith recognized the identity of the Crucified-Risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.
This is the way we encounter the Crucified-Risen Jesus in our daily lives: in our broken/wounded neighbor, in the broken/opened Scriptures, and in the broken/Eucharistic bread. If I am truly living a life of mercy and charity, I touch the wounds of the Crucified-Risen Lord with the finger of self-sacrificial love toward those who are most in need. If I am truly living a life of mercy and charity, I am penetrating the wound in the side of Christ with my hand of loving service to the poor. If I am truly living a life of mercy and charity, I am living a resurrectional life in the here and now, because I am living, in the here and now, the life of the Crucified-Risen Lord. If we are truly living a life of mercy and charity, we are living a resurrectional life, and, living a resurrectional life, we will not die. We will not die in the sense that the life we live in Christ now, continues beyond death. “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” When we live as Jesus calls us, there is a continuity between this life and the next, because the next life is, in fact, present in us in the here and now, with the loving presence of Christ present in us by his Spirit dwelling in us - our heart dwelling in heaven even as our mind and body remain in the world; and we continually encounter the Crucified-Risen Lord in the brokenness of this world: in our own broken/wounded self and in our broken/suffering brothers and sisters, in the breaking open of the Scriptures, and in the breaking of the bread.
A Personal Note: I have previously recounted the episode at the 1964-65 World's Fair in Flushing, NY, when I was with my family at the Vatican Exhibit. I was seven year’s old at the time. As I was standing before Michelangelo’s Pietà, feeling very sick. I was looking so intently at that statue for a long time. I was so mesmerized. I was too young to interpret the sense of what I was experiencing at that moment. But, reflecting on the healing that took place, and what my father said to me afterward, “You are Pietà,” and, hearing my father, for the rest of his life, calling me by the name, Pietà, rather than the name, Peter, given to me at birth, has served to confirm that it was in that moment that I was gazing for the first time at that which was my truest and deepest identity in the Crucified-Risen Christ: Pietà. At that moment, I came to know my most intimate identity in the Crucified-Risen Jesus, embraced by my most loving and compassionate Mother, Mary. My deepest identity in the Crucified-Risen Lord is to be Pietà: to be able to look intently at my own brokenness and at my broken/suffering brothers and sisters and encounter the Crucified-Risen Jesus, and to be moved by the compassion which is stronger than death that flows from the Crucified-Risen Lord, and, wounded by the arrows of loving concern for my brothers and sisters in need, dedicate myself daily to loving service of those around me.
So, as we journey along with the Lord Jesus and relive His post-resurrection encounters with his disciples, may we be touched by the love that is stronger than death which flows from Him, let it’s arrows wound us with loving concern for our brothers and sisters in need, and may the undying flames of divine love be so kindled in us that we dedicate ourselves untiringly to loving service of those around us. Amen