Second Sunday of Easter
28 April 2019

The Gospel readings are often identical in the
Revised Common Lectionary

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John 20:19   When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” . John 20:19   When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20:24   But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told 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 in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

John 20:26   A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

John 20:30   Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Initial Observations

Today we hear one of the most widely remembered stories from the New Testament: the story of doubting Thomas. It is interesting that that title has stuck, even though the point of the story is that Thomas actually arrives at faith!
Whereas the Empty Tomb Proclamation Narratives resemble each other in all four Gospels, the Resurrection Appearance Narratives are particular to each Gospel. Even within that, the Fourth Gospel is always a bit special. Even in the Empty Tomb Proclamation Narrative, it has significant features unique to itself—Mary Magdalene comes alone and there is the race between Peter and the Beloved Disciple. The appearances of the Risen Lord are also peculiar to this Gospel. In this excerpt, we hear the substantial story of Thomas, in two parts, followed by the first conclusion of the Gospel. (Scholars often hold that chapter 21, while not original, was added very early, and provides a secondary ending.)


Kind of writing

This symbolic narrative explores several dimensions of Easter faith: (1) the gifts of the Risen Lord—peace, joy, the Spirit and forgiveness; (2) the identity of the Risen One with the Crucified One; (3) the blessedness of all who believe, eliminating any distinction between present believers and the very first generation of Christians. All three are important. Later generations may have been felt that earlier Christians, who actually encountered the Risen Lord, were somehow more fortunate. Even more important, a later Christian heresy Docetism—which denied the reality of Jesus’ humanity and its continued significance after the Resurrection—is countered by the sheer materiality of the risen Lord.


Old Testament background

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
…they failed to know the one who formed them and inspired them with active souls and
breathed a living spirit into them. (Wisdom 15:11)
Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defence, for my cause,
my God and my Lord! (Psalms 35:23)


New Testament Foreground

(1) New creation in Christ is reflected in the lay-out of this Gospel, which starts with an echo of Gen 1:1. Jesus’ last words on the cross are an echo of Gen 2:2. John 20:1 explicitly recalls Gen 1:1 again and in the breathing Gen 2:7 is echoed.
(2) Holy Spirit / Advocate: in the Fourth Gospel, there is a wonderful and deep presentation of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate. A single verse gives an idea of what is at stake: “
Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:39). It is simply not the case that “as yet there was no Spirit”! Yet, the function of the Holy Spirit, in the light of the Paschal Mystery, is now so new, so different that it is as if there had been no Spirit before. Cf. John 14:26; 16:7.
(3) Peace: see John 14:27 and 16:33.


St Paul

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17)


Brief Commentary

Verse 19 That is, the day of creation. Jesus’ self-presentation is not impeded in any way by their fear. Peace here is the Easter good news of victory over death and even the fear of death.
Verse 20 That is, the Risen One is the Crucified and the Crucified is the Risen One. Jesus is both the same and utterly transformed. The first gift was peace, the second gift is joy.
Verse 21 Repetition for emphasis. “As” should read “just as” and means more than a formal similarity: Jesus’ very own mission from the Father continues unbroken in the mission of the disciples.
Verse 22 Echo of creation. The third gift is the Holy Spirit, in the new role of Advocate and reminder. A new creation in Christ is a strong early Christian experience and proclamation. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! (Galatians 6:15) So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2Corinthians 5:17) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1Peter 1:3)
Verse 23 The fourth gift—to all believers—is forgiveness of sins. In this episode, forgiveness is part of the mission of the whole church. “Holding on” to sins means blocking God’s grace.
Verse 24 Thomas featured earlier in the Gospel: John 11:16; 14:5.
Verse 25 Believe what? That he is risen? That it is the same Jesus?
Verse 26 I.e. the eighth day, that is, today. The same gift of peace is underlined.
Verse 27 The Risen Lord takes the initiative, by meeting the heart-felt questions and doubts of Thomas.
Verse 28 This is the highest proclamation of Jesus’ identity in this Gospel. In this way, deepest doubt can be the direct road to deepest faith. The words also counter the propaganda of the Roman emperors, one of whom, Domitian, wished to be addressed as “our lord and our God” (Dominus et deus noster)!
Verse 29 This is a beatitude, one of the twenty-seven New Testament such beatitudes. Most likely, the writer is meeting an anxiety at the time of writing when the third and fourth generations of Christians felt that the difference in time from the events of salvation put them at something of a disadvantage.
Verse 30 This is the first ending of the Gospel and is a frank admission that the writer has selected from many traditions. The second ending, in ch. 21, is in the same vein: But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
Verse 31 This is a key text for understanding the nature of Gospels and in particular the kind of text which the Fourth Gospel is. The goal is a true understanding of the identity of the risen Jesus so that believers may live in him.


Pointers for prayer

1. “Peace be with you” was the greeting of Jesus on meeting his frightened apostles. Who has come to you bringing peace at times when you were afraid? To whom have you been able to bring peace?
2. Thomas, doubting and questioning, is possibly a person with whom we can identify. What part have doubting and questioning played on your faith journey? How has your faith been strengthened by such moments?
3. Note the way that Jesus dealt with Thomas. He did not give out because he doubted. He accepted how he felt and led him along to see the truth of his resurrection. Who has been that kind of teacher for you, gently taking you where you were and leading you to a deeper knowledge about some truth about life? For whom have you been that kind of teacher?
4. “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believed”. That requires great trust. Perhaps you have had the experience of being trusted without having to justify every step along the way. What was it like to be trusted in that way? Whom have you been able to trust in a similar manner?


Prayer

God of life, source of all faith, through the waters of baptism you have raised us up in Christ and given us life that endures.
Day by day, refine our faith that we who have not seen the Christ, may truly confess him as our Lord and God, and share the blessedness of those who believe.
Grant this through Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life, who lives and signs with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.


Thought for the day and prayer

How did any of us make the journey towards faith in Christ? No doubt a great part of it is simply what we received—usually from family. At some point, did I make a conscious choice? Perhaps at other times, I felt like walking away from the faith project? What kept me going? Did a more personal ownership of faith result? Perhaps I felt the intuition of John O’Donahue, “Faith is helpless attraction to the divine.” In spite of everything, perhaps in spite of myself, somehow it is part of who I am.
Prayer

Mysterious God, we are those who have seen and at the same time not seen. Help to look beyond the simple gifts of each day to see you the giver behind—and in—every gift. Help us acknowledge Jesus that we may know true blessedness in believing.