"If I cannot listen to the subtle manifestation of rich reality in my environment, I will necessarily try to impose my wilful codes on others. If I am not open to reality and do not obey the voice of reality, a terrible distortion takes place. Sooner or later I will turn the whole relationship around: Instead of listening to reality in people and events, I become convinced that reality in people and events should listen to me."

[Adrian van Kaam, The Art of Existential Counseling, Dimension Books, 1966, 80.]

Gospel for Second Sunday of Easter (3 April 2016)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
JGospel

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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then 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.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.” 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.” 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 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.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.

Introductory notes

This account in John has some close similarities with Luke 24:36–42. Though, of course, the reference to Thomas’ “unbelief” is unique to John.

the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them: “The reason the doors were locked was their fear of the Jews: the authorities had seen to it that their leader was executed, so it would have been relatively easy for them to pick off his followers had they decided to do so. But the function of the locked doors in John’s narrative, both here and in v. 26, is to stress the miraculous nature of Jesus’ appearance amongst his followers. As his resurrection body passed through the grave-clothes (v. 6–8), so it passed through the locked doors and simply ‘materialized’ (cf. notes on vv. 14–15). It is tempting, with Bruce (p. 391), to find in this episode the inspiration for the practice of the early church, when it met together on Sunday evenings, to invoke Christ’s presence with them in the words, Marana tha! (‘Come, O Lord!’, 1 Cor. 16:22b).” (D A Carson, The Gospel according to John, W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, 646.)

“Peace be with you.” Jesus had promised his disciples peace – see John 14:27 and 16:33. The Hebrew greeting šâlōm has a here-and-now focus – “may you experience the peace of God now”. The greeting also carries an eschatological focus – “may you experience the unqualified well-being of God’s kingdom”. The greeting should be linked with Jesus’ final words: “It is finished”. Peace is a distinctive mark of the kingdom that is ushered in through Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. Significantly, St Paul – in every one of his Letters – opens with this greeting. He also adds “grace” to “peace”.

he showed them his hands and his side: Jesus’ wounds are proof that it is really him and proof also that his death – his exaltation – was indeed a victory. Thomas will not believe unless/until he sees these authenticating marks.

he breathed on them: In Genesis 2:7 we have an account of creation in which it is said that God takes up the soil of the earth, breathes into it, and humanity comes into existence. Add to this John’s reference to this being “the first day of the week” and you have a statement by John that this is a new creation. See also Ezekiel 37:9–10 and Wisdom 15:11 for a similar use of “breathing” as a metaphor for God at work.

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained: “The disciples, who have been with him from the beginning (cf. 15:27), will continue the presence of Jesus to a later generation. .... However much they have failed Jesus they have never been failed by the love of God made manifest in Jesus. This author’s presentation of Jesus’ unfailing love for both Peter and Judas makes this point most dramatically. The immensity of the love of God has shone forth in Jesus’ loving gift of self in the midst of their failure (cf. especially 13:19). .... Their experience in the locked room encapsulates their response throughout the Gospel. They are at the same time full of fear yet joyful in the presence of the risen Jesus. Jesus’ words to the frightened yet joyful disciples on their future mission must be understood against this background. Through their ministry sins are to be forgiven and retained. Another use of the passive (cf. vv. 1, 6–7) makes it clear that the disciples are missioned to do God’s work, not their own. They are to bring the peace and joy received on the evening of that first day of the week from the risen Jesus (see v. 19) to later generations of frightened disciples of Jesus (cf. 15:18–16:3). The Paraclete’s ongoing—yet divisive—revelation will lay bare sin, righteousness, and judgment (cf. 16:7–11). Thus the disciples, empowered by the Spirit, in the midst of their fear and joy will be the agents for the future sanctification of generations of believers. Jesus’ instruction of the disciples is recalled. The gift of the Spirit-Paraclete will render the absent Jesus present within the worshiping community (cf. 14:18–21), sharing their experience so that the world might know and believe that Jesus is the Sent One of the Father (cf. 17:21–23). The mission of the disciples renders present the holiness of the absent Jesus (cf. 17:17–19). They will bring God’s forgiveness for all sin that is to be forgiven, and lay bare all sinfulness (v. 23). This latter aspect may seem harsh, but it flows naturally from the story of Jesus. This element in the new situation established through the hour of Jesus is “the power to isolate, repel and negate evil and sin, a power given to Jesus by the Father and given in turn by Jesus through the Spirit to those whom he commissions” (Brown, Gospel 2:1044). Sanctification may lead to blessedness before God, but it also has the hard edge of exposing all that rejects the love lavished upon the world by a God who sent his only son (cf. 3:16–17).” (Francis Moloney SDB, The Gospel of John, The Liturgical Press, 1998, 532-33.)

Reflection

There is a legend told of St Teresa of Avila. It is said that the devil, disguised as Jesus, appeared to her. Teresa dismissed him immediately. As the devil departed he asked Teresa how she knew he was not Jesus Christ. She said: “You are not wounded”.

Some forty years ago I had the privilege of knowing a very special family – Mum and Dad and two boys. The boys were twins and both had cystic fibrosis. One of the boys died at the age of twelve, the other died about fifteen months later. Both approached their deaths with extraordinary awareness and peace, preparing their own funerals. They were deeply loved and affectionately cared for by their parents.

The strain on the parents was immense. Some twenty years later I met the same couple. The mother was bent double – the effects of lifting her boys. It struck me that she was “wounded” for her children. She died herself not too long after that.

What of the “wounds” of love that every parent bears? The sacrifices, setting aside what I would like for the sake of what the child needs, disciplining them and the sheer ordinary business of daily turning up. And what do all good parents say? “It’s what you do”.

And yes, there are lots of delights and joys, achievements and satisfactions, humorous and light-hearted moments. Still, being a good parent is in fact heroic. It calls for enduring love and love makes one vulnerable.

Our word “vulnerable” comes from the Latin word vulnus meaning “wound”. So our word vulnerable means “able to be wounded”. Is it possible to love without being vulnerable? Is it not true that love makes us even more vulnerable, that great love implies great vulnerability? In recent days we have heard the words in our liturgy: “He was wounded for our transgressions ....” (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus says to Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side!” Thomas is transformed by this: “My Lord and my God!” Until Thomas touches the wounds of Jesus, until he encounters the wounded Christ, he is unable to believe. Thomas realizes the total love, the utter vulnerability of Jesus for him.

If we cast Jesus, first and foremost, in the role of being the moral teacher or even the spiritual guide, we will never know him as he is, the enfleshing of infinite love and vulnerability. Again Pope Benedict’s words from the first paragraph of Deus Caritas Est come to mind: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”