(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: http://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Mass-Blog-for-the-3rd-Sunday-of-Easter-2022.mp3)
Most citizens of the free world have never been interrogated, but they know it’s a fearsome experience. Living under an oppressor’s boot will change you for better or worse—if you can survive it. Many who didn’t survive it are among Christianity’s greatest saints. And of course, there’s Jesus and his original disciples, who built our faith on their sacrifices to tell the truth.
Pope John Paul II was once asked, if the Bible were ever to be destroyed, which teaching would he want preserved for humanity’s future? He immediately cited John 8:32: “… the truth will make you free.”
The media’s wall-to-wall coverage of Vladimir Putin’s attacks on Ukrainian (and Russian) opponents has lent resonance to this Sunday’s readings documenting the challenges our faith’s founders faced to deliver us from the evils of false testimony. They also show how Scripture tends to bring modern humanity’s hunger for truth to the forefront.
Recently, Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at a state-run Russian TV news outlet, snuck onto the set of a broadcast, holding a sign telling viewers not to believe the lies this regime-approved broadcaster was spouting. The sign also said “Russians against war.” She was soon arrested and subjected to a 14-hour interrogation. After two days of sleep deprivation, she was released, but now faces an uncertain future for her witnessing to the truth. This makes Sunday’s first reading (Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41) about the aftermath of an interrogation that happened 2000 years ago seem stunningly timely.
The Sanhedrin ordered the apostles to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them. So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.
This courage to proclaim the gospel truth didn’t come easily for the disciples—especially Peter, who, under intense interrogation before his Master’s passion and crucifixion, denied three times that he even knew Jesus. As we see in this Sunday’s gospel passage (Jn 21:1-19 ), the resurrected Master later gave Peter a different kind of grilling—asking his disciple three times if he loved him. That was the same number of times Peter denied knowing him.
For Peter, confronting his cowardice to tell the truth was torture in itself. Jesus knew this, but he also knew forcing Peter to confront this lie would prepare him for future interrogations—the last of which would end with Peter’s imprisonment and death—as his Master teaches him:
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
Those two words are an invitation and an instruction for remaining under the shield of truth’s protection. Wielding this shield isn’t easy, and falsehoods often seem easier to bear, but lies accumulate quickly in the soul and before we know it, their weight makes rising in pursuit of our Savior impossible. Now is a good time for self-interrogation. As today’s freedom fighters demonstrate, the truth has set them free.