“Peace be with you … Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I myself; handle Me, and see; for a spirit has no flesh and bones as you see I have.”
The just concluded quarter finals of the European Champions League across Europe offered all lovers of the game, one of the most interesting and exciting football with pulsating and undaunted determination displayed by the unfavoured teams which produced unexpected results, upsets, drama, so much joy and celebrations. Real Madrid with a three-goal advantage in the first leg went to Italy shoulders high expecting an easy game against Juventus. But Juventus sure had some surprises in their feet. To the amazement of Real Madrid, they found themselves losing 3-0, only to wait to the last minute before they could secure a controversial win. If that was unexpected, then Barcelona losing out after a 4-1 advantage in the first leg to a less fancied Roma in Stadio Olimpico in Rome was nothing but a shock. Roma, true to their nickname: La Magica – The Magic One – simply performed one of football’s magic in recent times. They beat the great Barcelona 3-0 on the night! Barcelona was knocked of Champions League by away-goal rule.
My dear friends in Christ, football has its life-lessons that we can benefit from as Christians. The Psalmist prays: “From presumption, restrain your servant, O Lord.” Presumption is a sign of pride that replaces our reliance on God with a misguided reliance on ourselves and on our abilities for our successes; makes us look down on the capacities of others; and makes us rely on our past achievements. One could posit that both Real Madrid and Barcelona were presumptuous in their approaches to the games. With the Psalmist we should always pray: “From presumption, restrain your servant, O Lord.” We need to know that the efforts, the strategies and skills of yesterday may not result in the needed success of today. Added to these, we should respect others as a bundle of possibilities and seek God’s guidance in all our tasks. Secondly, in football, we can clearly learn that “It is not over until it is over.” This lesson opens us to possibilities, gives us the courage to fight on and makes it easy to trust not in ourselves and on our efforts but on God, to Whom all things are possible. Here we can feel the dispositions of Juventus and Roma, who fought undauntedly to the end.
More importantly, the football story became necessary for our reflection today because through the joy, excitement and celebrations of players and supporters of winning teams, especially Roma, we could get a glimpse at the feeling of joy that the disciples experienced in the Gospel of today. St. Luke tells us that the disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord. And with disbelief as well!
The joy of the disciples was rooted in the fact that they were overwhelmed to see Jesus, their Master alive again. This was something they earnestly longed for. On the other hand, they were filled with disbelief because it was difficult for them to take it in. The Resurrection was an unprecedented event in history. Jesus knew that such joy mixed with disbeliefs and doubts could only be ephemeral. The task ahead needed men and women who were convinced, courageous and selfless. This explains why Jesus spent more time to stress the fact that He was real, that the Resurrection was a reality, and not a figment of any human imaginations nor a result of distorted vision: by inviting them to touch and feel Him, and by eating with them: Touch Me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. Secondly, He stressed the necessity of the Cross by explaining to them that everything happened to fulfill the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Therefore, His Death and Resurrection were part of the divine plan. He further explained that this was not to be the end of His mission – they were to be witnesses of these things to all nations beginning from Jerusalem.
We experience the impact of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances and explanations in the First Reading (Acts as Peter was able to boldly and fearlessly address the Jewish crowd, accusing them directly: You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. He did not stop there. Since the reason for the Resurrection is for the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation of man with God, Peter ushered his listeners into the unfathomable merciful heart of God, who in Christ, is always ready to welcome and forgive sinners, who repent: Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, he exhorted. These themes of repentance and forgiveness are echoed by John in the Second Reading (1 John 2: 1-5). The very purpose of his Epistle is for sinners to stop sinning, and, should they fall in sin, to seek forgiveness from the Father through, Christ Jesus, who is both the Advocate and the expiation of our sins and those of the whole world. This message is for us even now, to repent and to have our sins forgiven.