APRIL 23RD, 2017: SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
They devoted themselves
to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life,
to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone,
and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their property and possessions
and divide them among all according to each one's need.
Every day they devoted themselves
to meeting together in the temple area
and to breaking bread in their homes.
They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart,
praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.
And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
kept in heaven for you
who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith,
to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while
you may have to suffer through various trials,
so that the genuineness of your faith,
more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire,
may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Although you have not seen him you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained."
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord."
But he said to them,
"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."
Then he said 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."
Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
Today’s second reading tells it like it is. The unknown author of I Peter accurately describes the situation in which followers of Jesus find themselves after his resurrection and before our physical deaths. “. . . Now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith . . . may prove to be for praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” According to the writer, we’re not just treading water here on earth; day by day we’re trying to be more and more genuine people of faith. Carrying on the risen Jesus’ ministry is an ongoing process. It doesn’t happen at a specific place and time. It’s something we achieve every day of our lives, in different places, in different ways, and in our relationships with different people.
Scholars maintain that Luke, in today’s Acts passage, is probably painting a picture of a future, ideal Christian community, and not describing the actual first generation Jerusalem church. (The city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans at least 15 years before he penned Luke/Acts.) Luke uses his well-known “summaries” in Acts to simply provide his third-generation Christian community with a goal toward which they should be aiming. Convinced that a true disciple’s life should revolve around the “breaking of bread and the prayers,” he shows how being faithful to these two essentials of the faith leads to “. . . the Lord (adding) to their number those who were being saved.” Luke’s message is clear: if you do it “right,” people will come.
Perhaps the practice most attracting others to the faith was the ideal community’s habit of “. . . selling their property and possessions and dividing them among all according to each one’s need;” a primitive form of Christian communism. No wonder Pope Francis’ attempts to return Catholicism to a biblical faith recently prompted some of his detractors to label him a “socialist!” Given his scriptural orientation, Francis has no other choice but to remind us that capitalism isn’t a biblically-sanctioned economic system. The problem we face is that the system of sharing which our sacred authors do sanction isn’t very acceptable to many of Jesus’ modern followers.
Neither is the condition John’s Jesus attaches to receiving the Holy Spirit: “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he tells his Easter Sunday disciples. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Scripture scholars don’t regard this verse to be a proof-text for the church’s power to control the sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s much more a reflection on the power all of us share because we’re Spirit-filled other Christs. On one hand, when we forgive anyone, he or she is really forgiven on a community level; on the other hand, when we refuse to forgive, they’re not forgiven on that same level. Notice the risen Jesus doesn’t say anything about God’s forgiveness. He seems to take that for granted. He simply wants to make us aware of the power we have over others right here and now. I presume he never wants us to “retain” anyone’s sins – especially since God’s already forgiven all our sins on all levels.
It’s significant that the Thomas part of our gospel pericope revolves around the risen Jesus’ wounds. If we really are committed to being other Christs, I presume we’ll also share the risen Jesus’ wounds. Can’t think of more painful wounds than those caused by our forgiveness of others. Being aware of Jesus’ wounds should make us more conscious and more accepting of our own wounds. If we don’t have any wounds to show, maybe we should be questioning the genuineness of our faith.