Many signs and wonders were done among the people
at the hands of the apostles.
They were all together in Solomon's portico.
None of the others dared to join them, but the people esteemed them.
Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord,
great numbers of men and women, were added to them.
Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets
and laid them on cots and mats
so that when Peter came by,
at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.
A large number of people from the towns
in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered,
bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits,
and they were all cured.
I, John, your brother, who share with you
the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance we have in Jesus,
found myself on the island called Patmos
because I proclaimed God's word and gave testimony to Jesus.
I was caught up in spirit on the Lord's day
and heard behind me a voice as loud as a trumpet, which said,
"Write on a scroll what you see."
Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me,
and when I turned, I saw seven gold lampstands
and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man,
wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest.
When I caught sight of him, I fell down at his feet as though dead.
He touched me with his right hand and said, "Do not be afraid.
I am the first and the last, the one who lives.
Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.
I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.
Write down, therefore, what you have seen,
and what is happening, and what will happen afterwards."
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.
One of the reasons Luke composed a double volume gospel revolves around his belief that whatever Jesus does in the gospel, the Christian community also does in Acts. Though he doesn’t directly employ Paul’s image of the Body of Christ, he certainly shares his theology. It’s up to us to continue Jesus’ work. No matter what he accomplished during his earthly ministry, if we refuse to carry his ministry forward, it remains unfinished.
Only other Christs can pull that off. That’s why we should be well-versed in both understanding and copying Jesus’ personality. The second point is most important. As the late Fr. Dan Berigan insisted, “Our task is to become Christians, not experts on Christianity.” Luke constantly reminds his community that it isn’t what we know but what we do. And based on today’s first reading, one of the main things we do is heal, even going beyond just healing physically. That seems to be why Luke includes in his cures “those disturbed by unclean spirits.” In the evangelist’s day and age, unclean spirits were thought responsible for all evils, not just moral evils. For instance, those with mental problems were believed to have as many demons in them as someone afflicted with cancer.
Following that line of thought, John’s Jesus, on the night of his resurrection, gifts his disciples with the Holy Spirit, enabling them to forgive one another’s sins. Nothing rids us of our demons more than forgiving and being forgiven. Both help us create the kind of world the risen Jesus envisions.
Yet, as the author of Revelation states, unless we keep the risen Jesus as the “first and last” of our lives, we’ll be trapped in our humdrum existence. Only he/she provides us the life for which we dream, as long as we remain participants and not just spectators.
One of the key elements in our participation can easily be overlooked – at least I overlooked it until recently. When John’s Jesus reminds Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed,” we correctly include ourselves in that number. Yet at the same time, there’s usually a group we leave out: our sacred authors. All scholars tell us that no one who physically came in contact with the historical Jesus ever wrote anything about him that we have today. None of our sacred authors – including the evangelists – directly heard or saw Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus who lived between 6 BCE and 30 CE. They, like we, encountered only the risen Jesus. Everything we read in our Christian Scriptures has come down to us from those who have not seen, yet believe. If they didn’t pass on their second and third generation reflections to fourth and fifth generation Christians, we’d have no Christian Scriptures.
Obviously no one alive today has had an experience of the historical Jesus. Along with our sacred authors, we can only have contact with the risen Jesus. Though we might sluff off our risen Jesus experiences as insignificant, thankfully our Christian biblical writers didn’t share that state of mind. Rembert Weakland, the former archbishop of Milwaukee, once wrote that all Christians have an obligation to put their risen Jesus experiences into a format others can later surface. The Spirit didn’t share them with us for our benefit alone.
Hard to tell what that format would entail. (Weakland suggested that, given specific circumstances, it could simply be a letter to the editor of our local newspaper.) Though I imagine few of us will ever write a gospel, we should at least share our reflections with certain family members or close friends. Just as our sacred authors have helped us, we might be a help to others – people who we don’t realize need them.