Year C: 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, 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.
- How do you feel about the power we’ve been given to forgive or hold others in their sins against us? (Not the same as absolution). Is forgiveness central in your faith life?
- When have you experienced the spiritual presence of someone important in your life? A loved one who had passed, or a friend who moved away. Is this an experience of “love being stronger than death” in your life? Tell the story.
- Is God’s resurrected presence an external thing for you, or do you also feel Christ dwelling within you? When does this interior experience happen for you? (Beyond receiving the Eucharist)
- Jesus overcame death. Sins are forgiven. Love prevails. All things are being made new. Alleluia. Christ is risen. How does this yearly Easter mantra make a difference for you this year? If you truly believe this, where does the reality of the resurrection take shape in your daily life?
Patricia Datchuck Sánchez
Easter’s living legacy is beautifully told in today’s Johannine Gospel. All is present there: peace and mission; a living, breathing Spirit; forgiveness and faith. Comprised of two resurrection appearances a week apart, John’s account differs from that of Luke, who separated the moments of the Christ-event (resurrection, ascension, gift of the Spirit) for pedagogical and liturgical reasons. John, however, coalesced the various facets of the Christ-event, and offers a more theologically accurate presentation. In the fourth Gospel, it was on an Easter night that Jesus bestowed the Spirit and mandated his own to continue his mission of forgiveness.
Although Jesus’ greeting of peace (Shalom) was the conventional Jewish salutation, in the context of his resurrection it took on an added significance. Peace and joy were signals of the messianic era begun in Jesus. The peace he had promised was now his to give in fulfillment of the prophecies of Joel (3:11) and Ezekiel (36:27). With the same Spirit who was breathed into sculpted earth and brought forth a living being (Gen 2) and the same Sprit who had anointed kings, priests and prophets, Jesus anointed and consecrated his own for service.
In keeping with all the accounts of the risen Lord, John was careful to establish the continuity between the earthly, crucified Lord and the risen Christ. Jesus’ wounds were clearly evident. Transformed and glorified, he was, nevertheless, the same Lord. This emphasis was intended to correct a certain gnostic element within the Johannine church that preferred to downplay the suffering and death of Jesus in favor of a wonder-working, divine-man Christology. Those who insisted on this incorrect view of Jesus eventually seceded from the community and prompted the Johannine letters in which this ancient author repeatedly appealed to those who had withdrawn to return to the faith and the community.
Having breathed his Spirit upon them, Jesus also endowed his disciples with the authority to forgive and retain sins. There is a nod here to the rabbinic practice of binding and loosing — that is, to admit or refuse someone admission to the community based on their sinfulness and adherence (or not) to the law. Later scholars find in this text the roots of the Christian sacrament of reconciliation. However, this later development should not eclipse this text’s primary message of mutual mercy and forgiveness.
Through the experience of Thomas, the Johannine author also addresses the place of doubt in the life of faith. Thomas is a source of encouragement for believers of all ages; he was a person who questioned and was reluctant to profess his faith without empirical proof, and then moved from doubt to firm faith. This narrative helped the early church to come to grips with an issue that became more urgent with the deaths of the authoritative eyewitnesses on whom they had come to depend: How could someone believe in the risen Christ without the witness of one who had seen him? After all, Thomas did not come to faith even when the others told him they had seen the Lord. Nor are we told that he did reach out and touch Jesus when he was invited to do so. Thomas, like us, was called to a faith that did not demand proof. Like us, Thomas accepted Jesus’ challenge: “Believe.” His profession of faith is ours as well: “My Lord (Kyrios) and My God (Theos).” Amen, so be it.
Resurrecting with Questions
Whenever I ponder St. John’s Gospel in general and the resurrection stories in particular, a number of questions enter my mind. I usually dismiss them because they threaten the comfortable boundaries of my confined consciousness. I sense that even asking them in a sustained way will take work and living them will demand stepping off the edge of security-consciousness into a night of trust. Ordinary people may hold unexamined opinions about these questions or entertain them after a third beer. But they are seldom seriously pursued. However, once you accept that humans are only aware of a small fraction of what they are experiencing, the door is opened into a world where people can be present even though the doors are locked.
I wonder: what kind of a barrier is death? While people are alive, we often talk of a spiritual presence to one another. At least part of what that means is we sense a reality deeper than body and mind that is crucial to the identity of a person. We presume this deeper reality is mediated through body and mind. Therefore, when body and mind have fallen away, this deeper reality is inaccessible. Body and mind constitute “remains”; spirit goes into another world, the spirit world. The deceased is with God and at rest, i.e., inactive. However, in St. John’s Gospel ascension and resurrection are distinguished. Ascension means Jesus is with God; resurrection means he is still present to the ones he loved. His love relationships are intact. The disciples do not have to go on without him. They have to go on with him in a new way.
Is Jesus a special case? Or is the disciples’ experience of the death, ascension, and resurrection of Jesus a revelation of the spiritual structure of reality, a spiritual structure in which all participate? Do all who have given and received love in this incarnate life continue to do so after the death of the body? Is love really stronger than death? We have all heard stories of people who are close to death seeing visions of deceased loved ones. It is assumed they area welcoming committee, guiding the about-to-die person to the other side. Death means reconnecting with those we have loved and lost.
This rendition is often the way Christian faith in life after death is characterized. However, it is not the spiritual consciousness of resurrection in John’s Gospel. John’s Good News is not impressed with the separation power of death. Jesus may be going to God, but that does not mean he is leaving his loved ones on earth. Just the opposite. His death will bring about a condition in which the disciples will be able to see his abiding love clearly. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:18-20). The world that sees with physical eyes will no longer see Jesus after his death. But the disciples, the ones whom he loves, will see him because they will perceive him with spiritual eyes. This will happen “on that day,” the day when he physically dies.
Why will the death day of Jesus be also his resurrection day, and the day the disciples will grasp the communion between God, Jesus, and themselves? The human person is a composite being. In classical language, we are body and soul, material and spiritual. When we appreciate ourselves as physical, we know what it means to say we: are with someone, or beside someone, or above someone, or below someone. Physical realities are separate from one another. When they come together, they do so only to break apart again. This sense of separation is so pervasive that even the moments of togetherness are haunted by thoughts of future separation. Most of us are very aware of this combination of together and separate. When we love someone very deeply, we instinctively fear they will die and leave us. The stronger the sense of togetherness, the stronger the fear of separation.
However, we can also appreciate ourselves as spiritual beings. When we do this, we know what it means to say we are in someone Spiritual beings’ inter-dwell. They can be in one another without displacing anything of the other within which they dwell. Inter-dwelling is the essential spiritual condition—”I am in the Father, you in me, and I in you.” In spiritual consciousness togetherness hold sway with such force that separation is inconceivable. When the physical falls away, this spiritual communion remains and takes “center stage.” This is why Jesus says ‘on that day,” the day of his physical death, they will realize the truth of spiritual indwelling. When the physical is present, it monopolizes consciousness. When it is absent, the emptiness can be experienced not only as loss but also as possibility. There is a new form of presence. It is not waiting for us beyond death. Even though the doors are locked, he and she is “in our midst.” On the spiritual level, we are never orphaned. Can this be true? How do we live this question of the resurrection?
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.