Second Sunday of Easter (April 27 2014)
Notes on the Gospel
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. (John 20:19-31 – NRSV)
1. Jesus comes to them in the shadows of their unbelief – “when it was evening”. See last week’s Introductory notes on John’s use of the metaphors of darkness, night and evening.
2. He “stood among them” – definite echoes of the great promise, “I shall be with you!” – see Exodus 3:12.
3. The peace greeting in Israel by this time had taken on the connotations of praying that all the blessings of the coming Messiah would be on the other person. In 14:27 we have heard Jesus say to the disciples:
a. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid”.
b. And in 16:25-33: “‘The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father’. His disciples said, ‘Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God’. Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
4. “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”. Ruah, the holy and creative breath of God, that brought humanity into being (see Genesis 2:7), now brings the disciples into being as missionaries. “‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’.” Jesus brings the creative and life-giving power of God to the world.
5. Raymond Brown says that the focus of these last verses of John’s Gospel is the disciples – then and now:
a. “It has been said (C. H. Dodd), that so much happens on the cross in the Johannine story that there is hardly any need for a resurrection account. Again, one must recognize that the author’s major interest is the Johannine believers, not what happened to Jesus. As with the passion account, the basic tradition is still found in the Fourth Gospel: a woman at an empty tomb (20:1), lack of faith (20:11–15, 27), appearances (20:11–18, 19–23, 26–29), and a commission (20:21–23). But the tradition has been reshaped within the Johannine tradition to tell of three journeys to faith. The BD, who does not see Jesus, nevertheless recognizes the action of God in the tomb and the clothes of death, now empty. He saw and believed. Mary Magdalene moves from darkness and ignorance through a desire to hold Jesus to obediently announce, “I have seen the Lord” (20:1–2, 11–18). Thomas will not believe unless he can also (like Mary Magdalene) experience the fleshly presence of Jesus. But the presence of the risen Jesus leads him to confess, “My Lord and my God” (20:28). Each of these episodes addresses the readers, who are blessed by Jesus because—like the BD—they believe without seeing (v. 29). They have the Scriptures (v. 10), they have the founding commission given to the disciples (vv. 21–23), and they have the things “written in this book” (v. 30). The Conclusion. As the original disciples, the BD, Mary Magdalene, and Thomas made their journey to faith in the risen Lord, so must the readers of “this book” (see 20:30). They are living in a period of time when Jesus is no longer with them. Yet, like the BD, they are blessed because they do not hanker for the flesh of Jesus, as did Mary and Thomas. They have the Scriptures, the community with its authority, and most of all, they have this book, written that they may ever deepen their faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. They will have life in his name (20:30–31). (Raymond E Brown & Francis J Moloney, F J, An Introduction to the Gospel of John, Doubleday, 2003, 314–315.)
…. 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.
We have a saying, “Seeing is believing”. John reverses that: “Believing is seeing”. John is interested in seeing with the soul not just with the physical sight. And when you see with the soul you connect heart to heart. This is what John means by believing and it does not necessarily involve physical sight.
St Francis de Sales’ (1567-1622) “heart speaks to heart” says it nicely. John Henry Newman (1801-1890) took this as his motto under the Latin: Cor ad cor loquitur”.
Listen for the contrasting senses of the word seeing in these two instances. First of all, in 6:36 Jesus rebukes the people because they have no moved beyond mere physical seeing: “you have seen me and yet do not believe”. In the second instance, he points to that heart to heart intimacy which is a seeing of the soul: “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day (6:40).” Belief is both cause and effect of the seeing – we can see with the soul because we believe and our belief grows because we see with the soul.
This can help us, in turn, to understand such texts as the enigmatic statement in John 9:39: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind”, and the words spoken to Phillip: “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me (14:9-11).”
John uses very concrete language, he describes rather than analyzes, he gives us images and metaphors rather than abstract notions. We might say he engages the whole person rather than just the rational mind.
Belief is first and foremost a relationship – an intimate relationship. Jesus describes this relationship of belief when he says: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep” (10:14-15).
Those last words of the Gospel of John – “…. 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” – are a summary of John’s intent in giving us this account of Jesus and his teachings. We would do well to read the Gospel with that in mind. It is about fostering an intimate relationship with Jesus so that we can see!
(NOTE: Chapter 21 of John’s Gospel is regarded by scholars as a later addition. It is sometimes referred to as an Epilogue.)
Michael Whelan SM
“John’s ways of expression differ greatly from ours. His words are comparatively few and ordinary, his favourites recurring constantly. We use conceptual, abstract terms. He works with representations that have not lost their concreteness. ‘God is unlimited perfection, the source of all grace’ becomes ‘God is light and in him there is no darkness ‘ (1 John 1:5) and ‘I am the vine, you the branches’ (John 15:5). ‘The truth’ is not a logical concept but the realization of God in Christ. Our syllogistic Greek reasoning develops in a linear direction. John, a Semite and a contemplative, does not reason, he bears witness; he sets his reader directly in front of Christ and moves around this central point (concentric thinking), trying to approach ever closer (spiral thinking), eg 6:52-57. His images representing the total Christ are not sharply delineated, as in abstract thought, but open to many shades of meaning (eg ‘light’ in 3:19ff) and interchangeable (‘the life was the light of men’, 1:4).” (Dom Ralph Russell, “St John” in A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, Genera Editor Reginald C Fuller, Nelson 1969, 1028.)