Year A: Second Sunday of Easter

Appearance to the Disciples

John 20:19-31

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 nail marks 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 Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways do you experience the gift of peace of mind and heart? What could you do to be more receptive to this gift that the risen Christ wants you to have?
  2. Do you have trouble believing what you yourself have not personally experienced? Explain. How does this affect your beliefs about the promises made to us by Jesus?
  3. How are you being attentive to the apostle’s instructions, the communal life, the breaking of the bread and prayer?
  4. Where do you feel you most reflect the character of Christ in your life right now?

Biblical Context

John 20:19-3
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

When we read John’s accounts of the community and their experience of the risen Christ, we do well to remember that John wrote for a community that was already formed, a group of disciples who met regularly and were carrying on their mission. John tells the stories of the past to remind us of who we are and what we are called to do.

At the end of the first day of the new creation Jesus returned to his assembled disciples. They are depicted as a fearful group and Thomas’ absence tells us that while some had gathered together, the group as a whole was still scattered as Jesus had said they would be. John doesn’t tell us exactly where they were hiding out, but he does mention that the doors were securely locked. Jesus had promised that they would see him again and now he appears, returning to them and giving them the peace he promised.

As John presents the scene, the appearance of Christ, his gifts of peace and his Spirit, and the mission to forgive are all intimately bound together. We see God’s initiative, the divine outreach, and the commission he gives. The disciples’ experience begins with receiving Christ’s peace, a peace so dynamic that they are impelled to share it with others through the mission of forgiveness.

John has no interest in telling us what happened in the week between Christ’s two appearances. He simply indicates that the disciples had gathered again, and this time Thomas was there, symbolizing that the group was complete. The previously dispersed disciples had heard enough to come together and for John it is significant that it was on another first day, the day when the community traditionally celebrated the Lord’s Supper.

Although John neglects to tell us why the doors were still locked, Pope Francis said something in Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of The Gospel” that may shed light on it. Addressing the danger of closing off our minds and/or our communities, Francis said: “More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: ‘Give them something to eat’ (Mk 6:37)” (#49).

People in our world are starving for food and for peace, needs that go together. Jesus appeared in the midst of his disciples to give them peace, a peace that would impel them to mission, a peace that would underpin a community of solidarity and mission. As Pope Francis pointed out, rigid structures, rules, habits and retribution can make us feel safe, but they do not bring Christ’s peace. We know Christ’s peace only when we get caught up in the dynamic of his ever-expanding forgiving love. That’s the journey we are called to deepen in the 50 days of Easter.

Mercy is a Verb

Mischa Geracoulis

Today’s readings are layered in revelation and instruction. They are lavish in praise and thanksgiving specifically for the gift of mercy that brings us to salvation. Each reading leads us to become less conscious of ourselves, and more conscious of God’s mercy, collectively and individually. The messages of God’s merciful redemption through Jesus, and Jesus’s subsequent instruction to serve, is as alive and relevant now as it was in the apostles’ day.

Upon receiving Christ’s peace, the apostles paid it forward by living and preaching a reign of God that was inclusive and compassionate. The Acts reading illustrates an inclusive fellowship marked by faith sharing through the breaking of bread. These communal meals brought relief from physical hunger as well as the fulfillment of spiritual hunger, too. Then, as is still so often the case today, people were yearning for love, acceptance and a God in whom they could fully believe.

The street ministry of a priest friend comes to mind. Combing tough, inner city streets, my friend knows no stranger, as he daily ministers to the transient, unhoused, hurting and discarded individuals who wander his turf. His work is a hand up, rather than a hand out where everyone is treated with equal dignity. Indeed, breaking the eucharistic bread, which he freely gives each week, has an equalizing effect. No longer separated by socioeconomic status or labels, all become one in Christ. My friend’s work is not for the faint-hearted. When I’ve asked him if he ever gets discouraged, he simply defers to Christ’s mercy.

Similarly, my friends serving within the Catholic Worker movement provide modest humanitarian aid to those traveling north across the U.S.-Mexico border. They regularly hand out lip balms, protein bars and bottled water to frightened and weary pilgrims. They have said “Yes” to God, “Yes” to Jesus’s commands of love and to discipleship. Believing that they have received God’s mercy and generosity by way of donated supplies, they pass it on with glad hearts. Likewise, other friends have taken it upon themselves to distribute blankets to their city’s unsheltered who sleep on sidewalks and park benches.

These friends remind me that we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We are meant to share the gifts bestowed upon us — and that is what these individuals do. For me, they exemplify that modern-day discipleship is perfectly feasible.

To live out the character of Christ is, among many things, to live in a state of thanksgiving for God’s redemptive mercy. Today’s psalm is clear in that respect. To walk this talk, however, is not accomplished by routine or hurried obligation, but with heartfelt sincerity and virtuous acts. I see this in my friends. They assume a personal responsibility to love and serve. Yet, as serious as their work is, they are among some of the most lighthearted individuals I know. They don’t view themselves as special or what they do as a hardship. Nor do they see the people whom they serve as beneath them in any way. Ablaze with God’s love and passion, they pass along the peace and love conferred to all through Christ.

Dictionaries describe mercy as a noun, something granted to another, something like compassion, or favor or blessing. The Bible describes mercy as a gift from God, one that is meant to be given to those who need it. Thus, it has utility and action. Establishing the abiding faithfulness of God, we are to circulate mercy, to pay it forward irrespective of deservedness.