The Greatest Story Ever Told | Sunday April 26 | Fr. Andy

Click here to read the daily readings from the USCCB website!

Have you ever known a really good story teller?  I feel like I have known a lot in my lifetime. I try to be a good story teller myself.  

A couple of times recently my nieces and nephews have asked me to tell them a story… “Uncle Andy, tell us a story about the craziest thing you did when you were a kid?” Or “Uncle Andy, tell us about the coolest place you’ve ever been.”

Now is not the time for me to tell either of those stories, but I just wanted to appreciate that being a good story teller is not easy, it takes practice.  

A good story teller has to know how much detail to give, how much of the back story to include, when to go to the most important part, and even how to relate it to the particular audience.

In today’s readings we hear from two of the greatest story tellers, Jesus and Peter.  They are both telling the greatest story ever, God’s story of salvation history featuring the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

In a culture that was highly verbal, being a good storyteller was very important.  And here we have the greatest story ever told by great storytellers and we should take note and even re-read them again.

In a letter I sent to all registered Nativity parishioners a couple of weeks ago, I suggested that they read the Acts of the Apostles during this Easter season, it is truly a fascinating story of what was happening with the early Church.

Constantly, in these stories, in the Good News of Jesus, we hear of four central points: first that God Loves us; second that Sin Separates us from God; third Jesus saves us from our sin; fourth God offers us His loving relationship through prayer and the Catholic Church.  

It is important to understand the four points of the Good News when we see them - we see them used in today’s readings and we see them used throughout the Acts of the Apostles, and if we ever want to share the Good News with others it is helpful to follow the same pattern that the early Church used.

So, let me break those four points down just a bit more. First that God loves us. God loves us so much that he wants a lived relationship with us, not just on Sundays, not just when it is convenient.  Would a marriage be strong if there was only one day a week when the couple talked to one another?

It’s a relationship built on love. God’s great love for us means He wants to bless us abundantly.  He has a plan for our life which will fill us with joy and give us those blessings, at the same time, He gives us free will to do what we want.  

God the Father is like an earthly Father, he does the best he can to teach you and love you, but at some point after High School graduation, he has to set you free to make your own choices and decisions… whether you ever come home again is your own choice, you know?  

In today's readings, we see this love expressed through joy, in the first reading it says, “you fill me with joy in your presence.”  The psalm talks about joy also. Then in the gospel, I believe the disciples describe the love they feel from God as “their hearts burning within them.”

So that’s the first point, God loves us, wants a relationship with us, and has a plan for our life, and it is up to us on how we respond.

The problem is many times we respond poorly, which is the second point that sin separates us from God.  Let’s be honest, there is plenty of sin in our world. Humanity was distanced from God by the sin of Adam and Eve, but our own, personal relationship with God is broken when we choose to sin.  

Sin isn’t something that people like to talk about anymore, but it is a reality that must be dealt with.  My favorite definition for sin is “a failure to love properly.” I think that captures most every sin I can think of, “a failure to love properly.”

If we “fail to love properly,” as God intends, it makes sense that it would hurt our relationship and separate ourselves from our God, right?  

In our readings, we see that expressed by Peter in the second reading when he talks about being judged by our works and that some of them were “futile conduct.”

So that is the second point, that sin separates us from God. But thankfully that’s not the end of the story, in fact we’re just getting to the good part. Because the third point of this story is that Jesus saves us from our sin.  

Since sin entered the world through Adam, through the first man eating the fruit of the tree, God created a new plan to save us from our sin, sending Jesus as the innocent lamb to suffer and die for our sins, in our place, on the tree of the cross, giving us the fruit of eternal life through the restoration of our relationship with God the Father.

In today’s readings, Peter talked about how God foresaw this plan to save us from our sins through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  He talks about how we were “ransomed from [our] futile conduct, handed on by [our] ancestors” in other words, we were saved from our sin which was handed on from Adam.

To need to be ransomed means we are being held hostage by someone right?  Well, we are held hostage by our sin and the devil’s claim on us, so we had to be freed from our sin, ransomed for a price.

Peter goes on to say that we were ransomed “not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.” 

And then Jesus goes on to say to the disciples “How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.”

See, what the disciples failed to realize in their reading or understanding of the Old Testament scriptures was what it meant that a savior, the Messiah, would come to free them.  

On the road to Emmaus they said to Jesus, not knowing it was him of course, they said of Him, “But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” 

So Jesus had to explain to them that He actually was redeeming Israel, but it was through His blood which redeemed them from their sin, freed them from their sin which is what truly held them hostage, not freeing them from the Romans like they had imagined.  

Jesus redeemed each one of us, paying the ransom with His blood. That is the climax of this story, that Jesus saves us from our sins.  

In any story, after the climax we see a resolution. The resolution that God offers us is in the fourth point of the story. God offers us His loving relationship through prayer and the Catholic Church.  

The whole problem that we as humans face is a separation from God, a separation that began in the Garden of Eden, and this Easter season we celebrate the resolution of that problem in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. 

Now that relationship is restored and we are invited back into it. But we must remember that a lived relationship requires certain things right?  

Think of any friendship, it requires conversation, it requires quality time spent together, it might also include acts of service, gift giving, affirmation and even physical touch, all moments of encounter, right?

So God, in His wisdom, has given us the Church to encounter Himself.  

Through prayer, we can have that constant conversation with Him. 

Through the sacraments, we have some of the other aspects of a relationship where we encounter God and experience intimacy with Him, first and foremost at Mass.

Think about our Gospel story, Jesus is walking with these two disciples, but they don’t recognize Him, His true identity is veiled.  Then He explains scripture to them.  

Then, after they persuaded Him to stay with them, “while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.

This is a microcosm of the Mass.  The priest, me, I am an alter Christus for you, I am another Christ, that is my identity.  I look like Fr. Andy, Uncle Andy, or “just Andy” depending on how long you’ve known me.  

So I am veiled when I begin the Mass, when I proclaim the readings and preach the Good News in the homily, but then, then something interesting happens.

In the breaking of the bread, I say, “take this, all of you and eat of it. For This is my body, which will be given up for you.”  

Notice I say “my body” - I am now fully in Persona Christi, I have become Jesus Christ for you and you, hopefully, recognize Jesus in me, working through me, and then especially you recognize Him in the Eucharist, and when you receive Him, He vanishes, as He vanished from the sight of those travelers to Emmaus. 

He becomes part of you though, and your hearts burn with joy, with the love of the encounter with Christ that takes place at every Mass, just like what happened in Emmaus.

Amazing right?  Let’s pray that we can get back to public Mass before too long and you can all receive Jesus again and encounter Him again in the Eucharist.

So that is the fourth point, that we can have this relationship with God through prayer and the Catholic Church, and that is fundamentally what Jesus and Peter are trying to get across to their listeners.

With these two stories today, it’s important to recognize that both Jesus and Peter are telling their stories, it’s not just a story that they are making up, they actually lived it.  

Here is the question: do you feel confident telling the story of Jesus?  Could you articulate these four points of the Good News to someone who has never heard of God’s love in their lives? Here’s a recap: God loves us; sin separates us; Jesus saves us; we move forward through prayer and sacraments in the Catholic Church.  

As Christians, we need to be able to tell the Great Story of Jesus, but what we really need to be able to do is to tell our own story, to tell how God has worked in our own lives.

So I will tell you a quick story about myself after all.  There was a time in my life where I was failing to love as God intended. The year was 2005 and I was only a month away from getting married, but I knew it was not right; she was a nice girl but I knew it was not going to be a Godly marriage. 

I wasn’t living according to His plan but my own. But by God’s grace I recognized my own sinfulness and the places in my life where I was broken.  I decided to break off the engagement. It was the lowest time in my life, but at the same time, I felt God’s love for me in a way I had never felt.

When I surrounded myself with Godly people and Godly things, in other words, the true and the good and the beautiful things of this world, I felt His love for me in a way I knew was straight from Him, straight from God. 

I felt hope and joy and peace again, feelings that I hadn’t felt in years, my heart burned within me, and I know He still loved me, despite my failures, Jesus had suffered for my sins and I was redeemed.

It was at that point that I went to confession and heard the amazing words of God’s forgiveness when the priest absolved me from my sins.  After that I started to go back to Mass.  

I started to encounter God through His Church for what felt like the first time, even though I had grown up Catholic. When I began to understand the sacraments, I truly felt His presence in my life, and wanted to give that gift to others by becoming a priest.

I began to realize that God’s plan for my life was better than my own, that it would fill me with joy and peace to help others experience Jesus, to experience the great love and mercy of God like I have come to know.

So that is my story in a nutshell. It is easy to tell our own story, that’s why people love to talk about themselves! We all have a story to tell. 

Our challenge is to point out God's role in our story, where we have failed to love properly and been redeemed by Jesus, and how we encounter him in the sacraments of the Catholic Church. What is your story and what part has Jesus played in it?